In today’s world, it’s easy to be busy. In fact, I bet you’re really busy right now. You might be eating a sandwich, scrolling through Instagram stories, checking emails or even having a conversation with someone. (If in fact you are doing all of these things while reading this blog you can simply stop here; you are an amazing creature and there’s no advice I can give you).
Being “busy” can be a lot of things; checking your email, scrolling through your project management system, making checklists, or obsessively following a World Cup match. It can easily disguise itself as productivity, and can even feel like productivity, but it’s simply not. Many of us are great at being busy but can struggle to be productive. After all, if we’re busy, then surely you must be important, successful, valuable and living a full life. But to be honest, being busy is kinda lazy. It gives us a built in excuse to not get things done. How many times have you said “I can’t do that I’m way too busy…?” Don’t sweat it, I do it sometimes too, but let me share a few easy ways to turn being busy into being productive.
1. Create a system.
Busy people tend to develop productivity busting habits. Checking emails compulsively throughout the day, constantly looking at your phone, checking every single push notification as though your life depends on it; these are the habits of busy people. They actually make your brain run slower. A study at King’s College London University found that constantly switching between working on a defined task and pulling your attention to emails and cell phones actually alters your brain structure. This compromises your ability to focus. If your job permits, try and reserve short and specific time slots for managing your email. This will allow you to concentrate more on what is necessary to achieve your daily goals and be productive.
2. Take a break.
I say that within reason. Busy people tend to be glued to their desk, while productive people know when they need a break. Breaks are not for procrastinators. You need to give yourself the occasional moment to refresh. Take a quick 5 minute walk, watch a short video or go grab a snack. You can achieve greater productivity when you let your brain rest after a few straight hours of hard work. Try to take a mid morning and mid afternoon break but keep it short and sweet!
3. Don’t drown in the details.
Busy people sink, productive people get things done. Don’t overly obsess about the details when it’s more important to complete a task in a timely manner. Revise later when you have both completion and knowledge to work with.
4. Remove distractions.
I think it goes without saying that being distracted is the opposite of being productive. You’d be surprised how much time you could add to your life by removing the distractions that stand in the way, and really move your focus to work. Distractions can be physical (clutter on your desk), intangible (notifications on your phone or random web browsing), and people (the every day friend that just needs “5 minutes of your time”). Try making a list of your distractions during the workday and set a goal to eliminate one each week.
5. Tackle your most challenging tasks before lunch.
Your mind is fresh in the morning, so focusing on your most difficult tasks before noon is a no brainer. Save the small and tedious tasks for the afternoon if you can!
6. Stop multi-tasking.
This one is especially difficult for me. With multiple computer screens, multiple devices, and coincidently multiple hands, I feel like I’m a professional multi-tasker. But actually, changing tasks more than 10 times a day DROPS YOUR IQ an average of 10 points…. 10 points!! Be more effective and efficient (and smarter) by focusing on one task at a time.
It can be difficult to change your busy ways to be productive. Some of these things just might not be possible given your job. But make the choice today to be productive instead of busy. Make every minute count so you’re giving yourself the best possible chance to accomplish great things.
I’d like to close this blog with a challenge: think of five things you can do today to be productive instead of busy. Email those five things to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I won’t see it until I check my email during my designated time slots, but I promise even acknowledging the need for change is a very productive first step.