We’ve become a society that praises ultimate productivity. In fact, the idea of improving productivity has become quite the rage. The problem is that most people confuse productivity with keeping busy. And busyness and productivity are NOT the same.
It’s great that you have the ability to plan ahead and develop intricate processes. There are times when those will be needed. There are just some projects you simply cannot screw up. You have to look at every possible option and ensure that things go as they should. Yet, that’s not every project.
In this article, we’re going to explore some easy to use tips that can truly help you improve productivity and move away from busyness.
Productivity & Busyness: Is There Really a Difference?
Before we talk about how you can improve your productivity. Let’s look at the two terms. Is there really a difference between productivity and busyness? Let me give you a very simple comparison (and don’t take it personal). My nine year old is a very busy dude. He’s autistic. And he spends hours with his favorite set of cards (a mix of Webkins, MTG, and Pokemon cards). He will reorganize them, look at them, and bounce them around. Now, in his mind, he is being very productive (and I don’t doubt that for a second because those cards are his world). However, would that help him get his work done in school? No. (But sometimes his little MP3 player does since it helps with his anxiety!)
If you’re a parent, an auntie or uncle, an older sibling, or anyone who has ever babysat a child or had a kiddo spend the night with you, did that kidlet want to “help” you do something? Because depending on the age, not only do they love to “help,” but their contribution may create more work for you or activate your desire for perfection (Pro parent tip: never tell them they’re doing it wrong – unless what they’re doing is dangerous…encourage them and do NOT re-do it in front of them. “Try it this way…” is a great way to redirect if it is truly necessary). The kids are busy and they think they’re being super productive. You, of course, think “Oh my god – there’s a better way!” (And smile and encourage them to keep helping…that’s how you build their confidence and give them life experience).
They really think they’re productive…really, most of the time…they’re just busy.
So, are you busy or are you actually productive? My rule of thumb (that I have to apply to my own work and personal life) is to review my processes. Should it really take me 291 steps to get to X? I mean, maybe once in a while. I’ve worked on some pretty intense projects, including textbooks. I’ve performed audits. I’ve had my hands on projects that are crazy important for a number of reasons (sometimes because accuracy is a matter of legal compliance). I am an admitted perfectionist. I don’t heap that upon my children (not even my two adult children). I primarily just drive myself fucking crazy with it.
Because not everything requires 291 steps to get a fantastic result. See, I’m a big “under promise and over deliver” type of person. The good news is that my brain has a Duracell battery (or so I say) that helps me quickly process information. That still doesn’t mean I really need 291 steps.
If you can get the same results in fewer steps and there’s no certification, potential legal issue, etc., riding the line, chances are you (and I) are staying busy (likely just out of habit) instead of truly being productive.
This extremely long post (we’re already over 500 words which is funny because I constantly preach about writing short stuff that’s easily scannable, but I presume most of my subscribers are here to learn and, thus, read) is here to teach you some easy to use tips on improving productivity.
Let’s get ready to rummmbbbllleeeeee…..
Know What You Need to Accomplish
Improving productivity is easier when you really know (and understand) what your ultimate goal is. Take some time to think about what you need to accomplish. Now, your boss or client may be the one to give you this information. Goal clarity is of absolute importance. You can’t know how to get to Point B if you don’t know what it is. A clear goal helps you create a road map (remember the old saying: the shortest distance from Point A to Point B is a straight line).
Track Your Time
One of the best ways to know if you’re busy or productive is to track your time on every activity. This is important because you’ll learn how much time you spend on certain tasks. I use Zoho Projects. I track both non-billable stuff (my administrative stuff) and my billable stuff. For my non-billable things, it helps me see what I’m spending time on that I either need to find a better way to do or stop doing it. If you have a good team, you could also delegate.
For billable projects, it helps me determine how much time certain tasks take so I can see if there’s a better way.
By the way, when I say track everything, I mean track everything…including the time you spend on social media. A recent study that I heard about on The Ride stated that Android users spend close to four hours per day staring at their phone and Apple users spend more than four hours per day staring at their phones. My guess is that, for most people, they’re busy and not productive. It’s all social media and email and that they’re not social media managers.
For most of us, that’s half of what we consider to be our work time. God, no wonder we don’t feel like we get anything done. Put the phone down. Turn off your notifications. Use Do Not Disturb with an exception of the school phone number (if you have kids in school). Get to work. Seriously.
No Deadline? Create One
I am the mistress of self-imposed deadlines. Why? Because I work better when I have them. They give me a goal by which I want to complete a project. They help me divvy up my time better. If you have open-ended projects, create a deadline (or a schedule) and freakin’ follow it.
Of course, if you work from home, this is sometimes easier said than done…especially if you have children. However, it’s a great way to improve productivity.
Take a Freakin’ Break
If you’re honestly in the zone, ignore this and keep going. I do that. For the times you’re not in the zone, take breaks. I tend to follow a number of methods.
Sometimes, I’ll do the 90 / 30 (this days where I am easily distracted or feeling discouraged). I’ll work 90 minutes and then take a 30 minute break (sometimes I get bored and start working again before the break is over).
There are times where I know I have other things to do (like a concert to go to) and I’ll work two or three hours straight and take a little break. There are some days where I’ll work 48 minutes and then take a 12 minute break (you’d be surprised at what you can do in 12 minutes for a break).
Science shows that taking breaks (however you do it) help you maintain your peak performance.
Don’t Schedule Meetings (If You Can Help It)
I hate meetings for a few reasons. Those who schedule them can rarely stick to the agenda. Those invited sometimes don’t need to be there or cause it to start late / run long because they can’t get their shit together (I’m not talking about legitimate emergencies or serious questions / concerns). Most meetings are better off as emails because you have written documentation.
I’m an extreme introvert. Meetings take a lot out of me. I hate them. Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels that way.
Do your best to only attend meetings you really NEED to attend. I do my best to avoid them or limit them to one certain day. This helps me keep my productivity up.
Give Up Multitasking
My ladies, I am especially talking to you. We’re raised thinking we HAVE to do it all in order to be successful. And we have to do it all at once. This leads to multitasking. I was actually taught to multitask in high school (the teacher referred to it as dovetailing). For the record, I was a senior in 1997. And I was told by the home ec teacher (which was an elective I took to fulfill some credit I needed) that you can’t be a good wife / mom without knowing how to multitask. To some degree, that’s true. Most adults have to multitask to get a lot of things taken care of.
In terms of productivity and busyness, though, it just tends to prolong things, create destructive situations, and serious mistakes. Multitasking should never be thought of as a way to be more efficient. I’ve done my share of working from home with a sick kid…and although I’m “multitasking,” it’s still technically one or the other. Even during my paralegal days when I could work from home when my 18 year old or 20 year old were sick.
From personal experience, I can tell you that trying to multitask will do nothing except fucking drive you crazy and think you’re a failure. Here’s a great article by Monster that will give you three reasons why you should not multitask.
Proactivity Is Your Friend
I’ve been on the proactivity band wagon I’d say since the day I was born. I mean, it’s kind of a bonus of having CPTSD…although before that, it was generalized anxiety disorder. I always worried about what could happen. Kinda comes with the territory in many shitty childhoods if you’re trying to find a way to not be miserable.
My thoughts on any given situation for as long as I can remember was, “What will happen if X?” Of course, many CPTSD specialists have called that “hyper-vigilence.” It is, but it’s always been a bit of an asset for me.
In terms of business, proactivity means that you think about the most common things that could happen (both negative and positive) and what you can do to eliminate the negative (or reduce the possibility) or turn it around. It’s also about what you can do to make the positive situations happen on a regular basis.
Knock the Hardest Project Out First
I know that there are a lot of projects that take more than a day…but I’m talking that crap you really don’t want to do. Do it first. This is known as “eating the frog.” No matter what you do (or don’t finish) after that, your entire day will feel easier and successful because you’ve tackled the thing that you dread. When I plan my day (which I do seven days a week, plus I create a weekly plan), I put the worst thing first. And now you know why. I feel better for the rest of the day. I didn’t procrastinate. I just got it done.
Find an Organization Method That Works for You
Confession time. I used to think I was a failure because I couldn’t find one organization method that worked well for me all the time. Rituals for Living Dreambook Planner was pretty good. I bought the undated PDF so I could just print out what I needed. In Spring of 2018, I tried the Productive Flourishing planner (the paid ones). They were good because I could type straight into the PDFs…but I just did NOT have enough room. I am now using a Panda Planner (undated). I like it because I can take it with me. I don’t like it because it’s quarterly and I’ll have to buy a new one soon. They’re about $25 per quarter so. Yeah. There’s a chance I might reprint and bind my Dreambook planner at the end of the quarter.
What’s my point? My point is…no one method has worked perfectly for me. I’ve had to try (and will likely keep trying) various planners. I like undated ones because I can pick and choose.
Find the way (or ways) that work best for you and stick to them. Spend the first 15 minutes of your work day planning out what you need to do. That amount of time is around 1% of 24 hours. So, spending 1% of your day planning the other 99% can be an excellent investment. Do it. Failure to plan is planning to fail.
Look into the organizational methods that interest you. Find methods that work. Overall, make sure that what you’re doing is helping you meet your goals for the day and propel you toward your future accomplishments.