Are you productive, or are you just 'busy'? How the difference could make or break your career
You’ve spent all day rushing from one task to another, but at 5:00 p.m. you still have three assignments left unfinished. You try to think of something significant you’ve accomplished today, but all you come up with is that you attended some meetings and answered some emails. You ask yourself, “Why was I so busy if I didn’t get much done?”
As you can see, staying busy shouldn’t be an end in itself. The real goal is to achieve your work objectives. And being too busy can actually hold you back from doing good work, because it distracts you from tasks that need your attention. Instead of being busy, you want to work smarter and to be as productive as possible.
Are you just 'busy'?
Everybody is busy sometimes and productive sometimes, but the goal should be to work productively as much as you can. Being busy is a problem when it takes over your workday and interferes with doing your job well. Here are some signs that being busy is preventing you from being productive:
- You’re a perfectionist about stuff that doesn’t matter. For example, maybe you’re working on an operations report and you try out every font in your word processor. That might be productive if you have a specific reason to change the font, but in all other cases you could probably go with one of the standard fonts and use your time more productively working on the content of the report.
- You multitask without finishing everything you set out to do. If you start lots of different projects but don’t follow all of them through to the end, then your work isn’t translating into results. Each time you pick up a project, there are other assignments competing for your attention. You don’t get to fully focus on any particular task, and that can cause the quality of your work to suffer.
- You’re tied up in unnecessary conversations. Suppose you’re discussing plans for an upcoming banquet with your team members, and people start suggesting ideas for Fourth of July programming even though July is several months away. Meanwhile, there’s still work to be done to get ready for the banquet. Although the brainstorming session is work-related and is keeping you busy, it’s not productive because it doesn’t help you achieve your current goal of planning the banquet.
- You don’t delegate. Maybe you don’t want to bother your team members, so you try to complete every step of a project without them. You spend time searching for information about a vendor even though a team member already did that research, or you make phone calls that an intern would have been happy to do for you. While it can seem like you’re doing your coworkers a favor, in some cases it’s more appropriate to confer with your colleagues and share responsibilities with them. Trying to do everything singlehandedly can actually hold up a project and slow things down for your whole team.
How to become LESS busy and MORE productive
Increasing your productivity usually involves cutting back on the activities that keep you busy but don’t further your goals and focusing on higher-priority work .
- Limit yourself to crucial tasks. Don’t volunteer for more assignments than you’ll be able to accomplish. If you have too many projects going at once, talk to your manager about focusing your workload on the most essential assignments. Don’t wait until deadlines have passed to address this problem.
- Prioritize the most important steps. If you’re getting ready to lead a safety training session, the essential steps might be: create slides outlining safety procedures, print maps with exits and emergency buttons highlighted, and practice your presentation. Once you’ve identified the crucial steps, create a checklist for your project and follow it.
- Use resources and delegate. Before you begin work, think about which steps need to be done by you, which could be done by someone you supervise, and which require input from others.
- Guide conversations to accomplish your goals. At times when it’s appropriate to take charge of a discussion, make sure it’s focused on the task at hand. If your team members want to discuss something else, schedule another time to talk about the new topic.
- Designate specific times during the day when you answer/check emails, look at social media, take calls, or schedule meetings, and really hold yourself to this. Block off the rest of the day in your calendar for "real" work.