Busy or Productive?

“I am so busy every day.  At the end of the day, I don’t know if I accomplished anything?”  Have you heard that before?  Have you said it before?  Have you looked at your calendar and wondered what are those back to back meetings for?  At the end of a day, after sitting through 8-10 meetings, have you ever felt like you should be known as the meeting attendee and not by your job title?  Have you realised that as your job responsibilities increases and grows, the number of meetings and length of meetings that you are attending also grows?  Have you also wondered whether you have made an impact or not?  Have you questioned your productivity and accomplishment in light of the busyness?

Personally, I have experienced my share of back to back meetings, a sense of great busyness and yet filled with a sense that I did not accomplish much or accomplished anything of great significance.  Sure, I wanted to be part of decision making process or situations where my thoughts are valued and yet time and time again, I find myself asking “What would have happened if I did not attend?”  Could I have used the time better?

A common phrase today that I hear from my clients is “I have no time.  No time to do what I need to do.  Time just races by.”  The reality is that all of us has the same number of hours in a day as the next person.  So the question is, why are some people seemingly more productive or are able to manage their time better?  What is their secret?

As I explore further with my clients, there are usually some common themes that comes up to explain their busyness and it falls into these 3 categories:

  1. No or Lack of Focus and goals.  There is a lack of focus or prioritization into what they would like to accomplish on a daily or weekly basis.   When we start the day without an idea as to what you would like to accomplish even if it is just 1 thing, we are prone to just following the schedule of the day.  It is also easy for other people to pull you into their agenda when you are not clear on what your outcomes are for the day.  Having a clear outcome or goal from each meeting will help you come out of it with a sense that you have achieved.
  2. Difficulties in saying No.  This is common sense and yet all of us fall victim to not being able to say No to some people out of obligation or if a manager asks us to.  What could have been a great start to the day, turns into a random set of activities because the manager has given you a new task that he needs done.  What can you do?  How would you push back on your manager?  You can try to negotiate but let’s face it, sometimes it’s just a matter of managing the random activities without feeling out of sorts.  That in itself is an accomplishment.
  3. “No one else can do it.” syndrome.  This is especially common for the high achievers, those of us who are very competent and good at what we do.  We know we can do, others know we are do it and therefore the trap is to do it all.  If we fall into that trap, there will never be enough hours in a day for you to complete 10 people’s work.  The ability to “let go” and let others do their work is not just necessary but required.  It is especially hard if you are the manager as ultimately you are accountable for the overall project.  However, as a manager you will then need to play your role as a coach to guide them and as a manager to lead and manage.

Which category are you in?  Busy or Productive?  You can be busy and productive but you should avoid being busy and not productive.  There are many books and reading materials on how to be productive or start the day right and so on, if you have not read them, do so and get some tips.  Try some of them and see what works for you.  In general, they would fall into these 3 categories:

  1. Start the day with clear goals.  Identify what you would like to accomplish for the day.  Write them out and refer to them throughout the day.  Remind yourself what are the key things that needs to be completed.  Focus on completing them before taking on more.
  2. Focus on the impactful and important activities.  Putting the time and effort on the impactful and important activities will ensure that you get the best outcome.  There will always be many tasks and activities to be completed but not all of them are equal in terms of impact and effort.  Focus on spending the most time on the impactful ones which may not necessarily be the ones that you enjoy the most.
  3. Letting go to empower others to be successful.  Empowering others to do their roles is critical for a manager.  Micro managing your team never works for both you and your team.  If you are part of a team, let the person who is responsible for a task to do it.  Hold them accountable for what they are responsible for as you are responsible and accountable for yours.  Just because you can or have done it before, does not mean that you continue to do it.  You need to focus on what you are responsible for.  Don’t take on more than you can handle even if you can.

The next time you catch yourself saying “I have no time or I am busy”, ask yourself “Am I busy or productive?”  If the answer is I am busy and productive, great but if not, is there something that you like to change?  The danger of not changing your approach will be, over time you will be tired, disillusioned, demotivated and resentful.  Make the change, it will help you feel a sense of accomplishment and motivate you to grow and learn.


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