Don’t kid yourself – Being busy doesn’t mean you’re productive.

Don’t kid yourself – Being busy doesn’t mean you’re productive.

Most people admit to being very busy, often over-busy these days, but very few people, when they think about it, will say they are very productive.

But why is that?

People don’t mean to waste time but that’s what happens more often than not.

Oh, I can hear the shouts – “No – I’m not a time-waster”.

Well I’m sure you don’t mean to be, but could that be the end result of your actions?

OK, let’s take a look.

What are the signs of someone who is busy but not productive?

  •  Easily distracted
  •  Lots of loose ends/tasks left incomplete
  •  Rushing from one thing to next with no time to think
  •  Everything seems urgent
  •  Sleep-deprived
  •  Feeling frazzled
  •  Little or no downtime
  •  Working hard and pushing through to get things done

So, if you want stop wasting time and be more productive, you need to do these things.

1. Have a good night’s sleep.

Sleep is the most underrated health habit and productivity tool there is. A good night’s sleep means 7 to 9 hours according to the National Sleep Foundation. Research shows that if you deprive yourself of sleep you make more mistakes and things take longer – but you know that anyway.

2. Create time to think.

”The quality of everything we do is dependent on the thinking we do first” (Nancy Kline). But so few people create time to think and they find themselves running from task to task, often responding to what’s urgent rather than important. If you want to be productive, carve out and protect your thinking time and don’t just slot it in after your working day.

3. Create an environment that allows and encourages focused concentration.

Organisations really let themselves down here.

Most people have an open plan office and are expected to be at the beck and call of their superiors. This is not an environment for hyper-productivity. People need autonomy and uninterrupted time if they’re going to be productive and do quality work. People should be allowed to work in areas free from distractions at least some of the time. People these days are so used to being distracted that the art of concentration is being lost. Few people can focus and concentrate for long before they seek a distraction/dopamine hit. Focused concentration is like a muscle that needs to be built. Use it or lose it. I believe that being able to concentrate to get quality work done will distinguish the people who will be successful.

Creating uninterrupted periods of time requires planning and scheduling. Most often, people give up these blocks of time easily. They need to be ruthlessly protected if you want to be productive.

4. Choose your tasks wisely.

It’s not possible to have focused concentration all day long. There are times when our brains need to just tick over. This is completely normal. This means that people who want to be productive need to notice their high and low levels of focus and attention and choose their tasks wisely. High focus and attention periods should be used for thinking, problem-solving and creative work. Low levels of focus and attention can be used for admin tasks and data sorting.

5. Take a break.

Our brains do their best to process information but have a finite capacity which is different for everybody. The pre-frontal cortex can hold only a limited amount of information before it gets full and needs a break to let go of what it doesn’t need, store what it does and be ready for action again. If you find yourself just not able to process/get stuff done, take a break. It doesn’t need to be long. Even standing up and taking a breath can be enough. But it is folly to keep going.

6. Make meetings matter.

Most people book meetings without considering whether that is the best way to get stuff done. Few people stop and think about what they really want from a meeting, e.g. who should be there, who should not be there, what is expected of the participants, before, during and after the meeting.

Without great clarity, meetings can often be a waste of time while still allowing people to look very busy. Take a moment and ask yourself: Is this meeting really necessary? Do I need to be there?

If you’re really finding it difficult to focus and you’re time-wasting and procrastinating it could be that you’re in the wrong job, i.e. what is important to you is not aligned with your organisation or the job you signed up to do. If so, it’s time for a re-think.

So, if you want to determine your future success the choice is yours. Do you want to be part of the focused few or the distracted many?