With the new year here, you're likely hip-deep in doing things that matter for your business. You made your list at the end of last year and saw January 1 as the starting line to get all of those goals accomplished. But are you making yourself busy—or are you actually getting things done?
What it Means to Be "Busy"
We've all heard it—and frankly, said it—before: "I'm so busy!"
But when Stack hears that statement, all kinds of red flags go up. "It's an excuse that means, 'That isn't important to me.' Have you ever heard anyone say, 'I have so much extra time on my hands!'?"
—Laura Stack, founder, The Productivity Pro
According to Stack, even the smartest and savviest businesspeople can get caught in the busy trap, confusing movement for real action. "It's simply a form of procrastination. When you're moving, hey, at least you're doing something, right? Most of the time, people are accomplishing nothing. It's critical to just get started on important tasks."
Many of us have been conditioned to not sit idle and to look busy, but these behaviors could be impeding our need to make real progress. And in many cases, doing more may actually do less for you, according to Stack.
The Difference Between Being Busy and Being Productive
"Would your manager be more impressed if you completed 37 low-value tasks in one day, or just seven tasks with incredible impact?" asks Stack. The difference, she says, is the results you create, not check marks on a list or hours spent at the desk.
When you sit down to attack a task, consider asking yourself how the movement you're making is going to contribute to the desired goal. Ask yourself why you're taking this action: Is it because you know this will get you to the next step closer to achieving your goal? Because you need to look busy? Because someone told you to?
The answer to these simple questions can help you avoid staying busy with low-level tasks. These tasks aren't going to get you any closer to your goals.
"Busyness doesn't necessarily equal productivity, no matter how you slice it. No one really cares how many hours you were in the building or if you finished your to-do list," Stack says. "People only care about what you're able to produce and the value of those results."
Avoiding the Busy Trap
Now may be a good time to pull out that list of to-dos you made. Take a good look at your list. Odds are, there are two types of tasks on it: those with and without deadlines. Those deadlines can be important for making sure you're productive, not just busy.
"We must always question the value of each task, based on how relevant it is to maximizing productivity and profits," says Stack. Regular tasks like employee reviews and payroll keep your team development on track and the people on your team happy. But that 30-message email chain that's been going around about the teambuilding outing? It's probably keeping you busy, not productive.
Building on the questions we mentioned earlier, here are questions you can ask about each task to help you know whether you're being busy or moving towards productivity.
- What is the desired outcome of this task I want to perform?
- What goal will this task benefit?
- When does this need to be completed?
- Is there something that is a higher priority that I can be working on instead?
- Is there a better time of the workday for me to complete this task than right now?
- What are the biggest distractions that have kept me from accomplishing this task? How can I eliminate or minimize them?
- How will I know when this task is done?
- Who benefits when I complete this task?
While the checklist above might not bring your busy level to a zero, it can help you increase your productivity. And if you're more productive in the time you have, you may have less temptation to bring the job home with you. It may even give you an opportunity to make real progress on something you've wanted to do for yourself or your family. Maybe something crazy like taking a vacation.
"You may not feel you have much choice about the tasks that consume your time, but you do," says Stack. And when you take control of those tasks, you just might get more done in less time—and with less stress—than you thought possible.
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