Busy isn’t always productive… Let that sink in a bit.
How many times has someone told you about how busy they are, or how they can’t complete a new task because they have so much on their plates? We hear it all the time, but being busy doesn’t always equate to being productive. It is extremely easy for someone to have the appearance of being busy, but it is actually hard to be productive. In this article, I wanted to share a few tips for converting busy into productive.
Let us first say that there are some people out there that are always going to be “busy” and completely unproductive. No amount of training, education, and guidance will fix their habits; it is their way of life. In these cases, it really comes down to analyzing their work output to understand if they are net positive or negative to the business as a whole. If they are net positive to the business, then great, let them continue to add to the business in their own way. However, if they are net negative to the business, it might be time to remove them from the equation.
With all of that said, there are absolutely some easy steps to becoming productive:
Make a to-do list – A running list of items to do is an absolute must in today’s work environment. It is very rare that someone is working on only one task at any given time; for most, the amount of items needed to be completed is endless. By having a list of items, it allows for a visualization of what needs to be accomplished. This helps with movement from different tasks without taking up additional cycles figuring out what needs to be done next. As an added bonus, it always feels nice to strikeout completed items.
Prioritize – Hate to say it, but not all to-do items are created equal. As a list is created, assign a prioritization to each item as you go along. This will allow for identification of which items to tackle first.
Plan ahead – Use the final minutes of a day to plan the day ahead. Typically, towards the end of the day is when things tend to wind down. Use this time to reflect on the day’s activities of what was accomplished vs items that still need to be completed. Then, work to create a plan of action for the next day for tackling tasks that still need to be completed. This allows for structure in the early morning and helps get a jump start on the daily activities.
Start calendaring – Use your calendar like a daily planner and block out time for accomplishing tasks throughout the day. This allows for structure around items that need the most attention, while giving yourself a virtual timeline for completing each item. One tip: I’ve seen people attempt to do this a month (or months) ahead of time. This almost never works out the way it is intended. Because other priorities come into play over time, only look a day or so in advance.
Group related tasks – It seems like commonsense, but sometimes without taking a step back, you may not recognize the pattern of items in front of you. Grouping similar items together will allow your brain to take advantage of the patterns that begin to emerge, and you will accomplish tasks in a shorter amount of time.
STOP – We’ve all been stuck on a difficult task or something where the answer may not be coming to us. In these cases, instead of banging your head against the wall, stop, move on to another task, and come back to it later. The mind works in mysterious ways, and it will continue to work on the issue subconsciously while you move on to other items.
Limit distractions – Even the best of us can become distracted with e-mails, IM, phone calls, etc. when working on a task that is either time intensive or requires concentration. Turn distractions off: this means close down email, turn off IM, flip your phone over, and close the office door. Distractions cannot always be taken completely out of the picture, but they can absolutely be mitigated.
Work from home – This goes in line with distractions, but sometimes the office in general is distracting, especially with many organizations moving to open concept. When struggling with tasks, sometimes you’re best-served to work from home. Keep in mind that when working from home, you have to be self-motivated, and the home needs to be distraction-free as well.
Keep tabs on breaks – Breaks are a good thing but can quickly become a bad habit. Some people find themselves getting up from their desk to talk to a co-worker, hit the kitchen, or whatever else they can find to take their mind off the task at hand. Taking a break from a project is always recommended, but if you’re taking a break every 15 – 20 minutes, that could be more of a distraction than productive.
Delegate – It’s okay to delegate. Some people attempt to take on tasks that are completely foreign to them, or they overload their plates with too many projects at once. It’s okay to delegate tasks to people that may be better suited for them. At the end of the day, how productive is it taking three hours to complete a task that someone else can do in one?
Busy isn’t always productive, and over time, it can lead to burnout… Furthermore, employees and coworkers can always tell when someone is always “busy” but never really gets anything done. No one wants to get burnt out at their jobs or be known as the person that never gets anything accomplished. The tips we shared above have been proven many times over to help people become more productive… It only takes a few small steps. Have tips of your own, we would love to hear them!