Are You Busy or Are You Productive?

Have you ever noticed that some the “busiest” people you know are often the least successful? Did you ever wonder why? 

In my work as a leadership and organizational consultant, I interact with dozens of organizational executives each month. Some consistently set and achieve their goals while others seem to be in a constant state of struggle to get anything accomplished. 

What I find interesting is that the executives who struggle the most seem to be the ones who are constantly talking about how “busy” they are. When I ask them what they are busy doing, their responses usually relate to dealing with urgent, unplanned situations, reacting to situations that are outside their control, or completing tasks that could be easily delegated to someone else in the organization. Yet, when they discuss the things they “have to do,” they sincerely believe that they “just can’t find the time” to work on the things they had planned to do or would like to do. 

On the other hand, the most highly successful executives I know seem to always have plenty of time to plan, to act strategically, to keep their commitments and to work on their organizations rather than just working “in” their organizations.  They also seem to find time to calmly handle all their personal interests, desires and obligations. These executives can effectively prioritize and manage their respective calendars in a much more proactive fashion. 

Since it is rare to meet an executive, successful or not, who does not have a full agenda of things that need to be accomplished and who is frequently juggling multiple priorities, what is it that the successful executives do that  the unsuccessful do not? 

Let me share with you some conclusions I have drawn from my observations of the executives with whom I have worked.   

“Busy” is a state of mind. While successful people achieve more and get more accomplished than their counterparts, when asked how they’re doing, they’ll rarely tell you that they are “really busy.” Conversely, unsuccessful people seem to feel busy and fighting deadlines all the time. They almost always feel overloaded and reactive instead of feeling focused and proactive. 

Even though the mode of unsuccessful people is unproductive and not accomplishing what they want, they still get a rush from having a lot to do. They have no problem finding things to do, yet they have no process or structure to determine whether they are working on the right things or the wrong things. Their mindset has nothing to do with the number of hours in a day. Most of these executives would feel overwhelmed whether each day consisted of 24 or 2,400 hours. 

What is it then that separates the “busy” people from “productive” people? 

Productive People Say “Yes” Strategically 

One of the biggest things productive people learn is not to take on more than they can handle. While busy people say “yes” to everything, successful people learn to say “yes” strategically. They know what is most important to them, have made an efficient plan to get it done and have a very tight time table. If someone else comes up to them and asks them to do something for them, they will have to sacrifice their plan and their time to accommodate that person. 

Productive people think about the repercussions of saying “yes” and only agree to do those things which will help them accomplish their key goals. When asked to take on a task, they evaluate what they will have to do to complete it successfully, how much of a time commitment it will involve, and what the deadline for the task is. 

Productive People Do Not Multitask 

While “busy” people frequently multitask, productive people seldom do. While multitasking may make a person feel extremely productive, research shows that the opposite to be true. It reveals that people who are regularly bombarded with multiple streams of information have more difficulty paying attention, recalling information and switching from one task to another than those who focus on only one task at a time. 

Productive people have learned that focusing on one task at a time makes them more productive because it allows them to immerse themselves in the task at hand.   

Productive People Prioritize

Productive people identify what is important and necessary. They separate the important and necessary from the things which have no immediate deadline and tackle those later. They make a habit of identifying the critical tasks and work to get those things accomplished first. 

Productive People Plan 

Once productive people have identified the things that need to be done, they develop a plan on how to accomplish them and schedule their time and plan their trips accordingly.  They use the plan to minimize downtime or to group tasks that need to be accomplished in a certain location. They use the plan to minimize driving time and map out their routes so they can get the most done in one trip rather than making multiple trips. “Busy” people who do not take the time to plan waste a lot of time because they fail to organize their schedule and their travel. 

Productive People Surround Themselves with Other Productive People 

People in groups tend to reinforce the group’s collective will. People who are surrounded by slackers will be encouraged, overtly or subtly, to be a slacker along with everyone else. Effective people surround themselves with other effective people who will reinforce their will to get things done and do them right. Peer pressure can be a bad thing or a positive thing. Effective people want others around them to encourage them and reinforce the attributes they want to embody. 

Productive People Get it Done 

Planning, prioritizing, eliminating distractions and focusing on one task are great, but at some point, that task must be tackled. While productive people do all these things, they do not suffer from “paralysis from analysis.” 

While it is easy to procrastinate and a person can invent plenty of excuses to justify delaying action, when a task needs to be done, productive people get things done. They simply work their plan until they are satisfied with the result. 

Productive People