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Don't Get It Twisted — Busyness Does Not Equal Productivity

Your to-do list is columns and pages long. Your Outlook is full of color-coded tasks and reminders. Your calendar is full of meetings.You battle interruptions from superiors, subordinates and colleagues with additional questions and requests. Your lists just get longer.

You are busy.

Your deadlines get missed. Your goals get delayed. You have guilt about not achieving the things you set out and agreed to do. You feel anxiety about getting it all done because there are not enough hours in the day for you to complete the work and maintain any semblance of balance between your work and your life.

You are NOT productive.

Busyness has become like a competition. We tell everyone who will listen about how busy we are. We rattle off the things on our to-do lists and the meetings we must attend. Busyness makes us feel important and, when others acknowledge and affirm our busyness, we feel valued. Since we all want to feel important and valued in the work we do, we convince ourselves that busyness is good.

This is a lie.

First of all, busyness is relative. What is busy to one person may be a typical Tuesday to someone else. With the definition of busyness being so subjective, it cannot be judged or become the standard for achievement. Busyness is not the thing that we encourage people to strive for.

Productivity is the thing. Productivity is good.

What separates busyness from productivity is results. People who are busy don’t tend to get nearly as much done as those who are productive. Busyness treads water while productivity swims laps. Busyness runs in place while productivity travels forward. Busyness speaks while productivity acts. Busyness twiddles its thumbs while productivity gets $#!+ done.

It is easy to get the two twisted. It is easy to confuse busyness with productivity. It is easy to get trapped in a cycle of busyness and lose your productivity altogether. When this happens, here’s what you do:

  • Get focused … Productivity requires you to prioritize your priorities. Your to-do list may have 100 things on it — but they are not all the most important thing, they are not all due at the same time and they cannot all have your undivided attention in the same moment. Figure out what must be first and focus on it until it is either done or advanced sufficiently that you can work on something else.
  • Get clear … Productivity requires you to have clarity on the expected outcomes so you can best organize your time and efforts. But prioritizing the priorities is not easy. It requires checking in with your respective “boss” (supervisor, client, etc.) to determine what they deem most important so you can be sure of where to place the energy of your efforts. Once you are clear on expectations, you can decide your direction. You may need help from others. You may need to delegate some stuff. You may need to negotiate for a deadline extension. You may need to pass on an opportunity altogether. Whatever you need, it is best to figure all that out before getting too far into working on the project so you don’t waste resources or time.
  • Get alone … Productivity requires you to have space where you can be by yourself and work. Once you know the priorities and expectations, you have to get away from everyone else so you can get it all done. You have to shut off your phone and stop checking email. You must close your door. You must eliminate as many distractions as you can so you can attack your to-do items.
  • We are all busy. Everyone has people and duties clamoring for our attention. Everyone has more work to get done than hours in the day to do it all … The difference between busy people and productive people is focus, clarity and separateness.

    If we want to achieve unprecedented results and develop a reputation as a person who is reliable, diligent and effective, we have to move beyond busyness to productivity. We have to get $#!+ done.