Busy people believe that getting more things done in the eight- or nine-hour workday is the holy grail. They cram in too many tasks in their to-do list only to end up moving most of their tasks to the next day and beyond. They also do not understand the difference between urgent and important.
Because of this, busy people spend most of their time at work fighting needless fires because they get blindsided by urgent concerns that are in essence not that important. In every company, many things can be tagged as urgent, but these are usually established by your colleague or your boss who expects an answer ASAP.
On the flip side, productive people know too well that an overwhelming number of tasks on their to-do list will only lead to undue stress. They take a less-is-more approach when it comes to planning their workday by prioritizing and only working on those tasks that are the most important.
Extremely productive people know how to differentiate urgent tasks and important tasks. They focus on getting what matters done instead of dividing their hours into trying to finish everything at once.
Stop the glorification of busy.
The growth in technology and speed of information is driving us to act faster and faster. We may even be tempted to think, “I just sent them a text 10 seconds ago, WHERE’S MY ANSWER?” It’s easy to lose sight of what productivity really means.
To complicate the matter further, people tend to wear busy as a badge of honor; like being busy is a good thing. After all, an idle employee is a useless one. Or maybe you’ve been taught, “Above all else, don’t be lazy! Out work everyone else!” We may even go so far as to add more things to our day just to make sure we are seen as busy.
So, what does it mean to be productive?
Productive people can properly prioritize their tasks.
When looking at your day, (because after all, what we need to focus on is TODAY, right?), ask yourself these 3 questions in this order:
1. “What MUST be done today?" - the things that must be done before your head hits the pillow.
2. "What COULD be done today?" - the things that you could do once the MUST DO'S are complete.
3. "What WILL be done this week?" - look at your work week as a 5-day window and commit to getting this weeks' work done THIS WEEK. This way you have room for changing things around when the unexpected happens, because it will.
If leaders could build habits around this type of thinking, then their own forward motion and that of their companies would yield greater results.
It’s no surprise that under different situations, different types of priorities might be chosen, however, a productive mindset means that one is focused on results. That means starting with the end in mind and working backwards. Honestly ask, “What result do I want to see?”
Once you are clear on the results, prioritize the MUST DO'S for that day, and then add in the COULD DO'S from there. Of course, the first tasks are the most important tasks that will drive you to your results. They are the ones that will create the most impact. They may or may not take the most time. Remember, the issue is to define tasks that make you productive.
Remember, busy and productive are not synonyms.
There’s a clear distinction between being busy and being productive. Being busy is about working harder, and being productive is about working or being smarter about the way you tackle the things you need or want to achieve. Being busy can be frantic, while being productive can be focused. John Spencer says, “Being busy is about being good at everything while being productive is about being great at a few important things.”
In a Forbes article about Busy vs Productive, Jennifer Cohen says, “The most productive and efficient people are those that “own their day” versus letting their day own them. They work to maximize their time to be as productive as possible, not just busy.”
She goes on further to say, “There is a huge difference between being busy and being productive. You can be busy all day and still feel like you’re behind on accomplishing your goals. Busy people tend to be great at “looking busy” whereas productive people are simply “getting it done.”
Larry Kim sums it up in his article titled, The Difference between Busy and Productive People by saying, “Busy people are the human equivalent of a 7-Eleven. Productive people know when to shut the door.”
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