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Busy, But Not Productive

Busy and productive are not the same thing. Get-It-Done Guy highlights the things that will push your productivity forward, rather than just keeping you busy.

By
Stever Robbins,
October 22, 2013
Episode #286

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As you surely know, my day job is helping people make their dreams come true. Sometimes that means helping them strike out and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Other times, it means helping with careers or building a business. The most common thing that stops people isn’t fear, or toxic people, or not knowing how to do it. What stops people in their tracks is that they are doing everything except making their dreams come true.

Let’s take Stacy for example. Today was a very busy day for her. She spent two hours rewriting a web site, an hour arranging a trip, 90 minutes posting on Facebook to “build a personal brand,” and then some time writing an article to get lots of exposure. Stacy’s day has been very busy. And obviously, oh so productive!

Or was it?

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Busy Doesn’t Mean Productive

Here’s another example. Skyler is very productive worker, Chris isn’t. Give both the same assignment and they start working. There’s tons of activity. Skyler, being productive, finishes, grabs a copy of the Hunger Games, and starts reading. Chris keeps running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

You wander down the hall and see them. Skyler’s reading a book. Chris is zipping around like a busy little bee. Do you think “How productive Skyler is!” Of course not. You conclude the opposite: that Chris is productive and Skyler isn’t. And you’re wrong. Because “busyness” is visible, while “productivity” isn’t. It’s even true when we watch ourselves; if I were Skyler, I’d finish my work and then invent more, just to stay looking busy.

Productive action moves things forward. Unproductive action is everything else.  

Let’s go back to Stacy, our first example. She is a self-employed marketing consultant. For her, “moving the business forward” means serving clients and prospecting. Nothing Stacy did this morning served existing clients, and it only very vaguely helped find new ones. Stacy needed a tune-up.

We reviewed her to-do list. For each task, we asked, “Does this item directly move the business forward?” Anything farther than one or two steps away from serving clients or signing new ones was considered “busyness.” In other words, pretty much the whole list.

Not Everything Is Equally Productive

One hour daily on Facebook and articles is 5 hours a week, or about one month each year. Could Stacy generate as much business in a month of prospecting as the Facebook and articles bring in? Probably. 

“But, but,” Stacy cried, “Facebook posts and article-writing build my brand! They move the business forward!” Yes, some activities build brands or awareness. But brands or awareness don’t make sales, and Stacy needs sales.

One hour daily on Facebook and articles is 5 hours a week, or about one month each year. Could Stacy generate as much business in a month of prospecting as the Facebook and articles bring in? Probably. Stacy has substituted dubious, long-term-benefit busyness for the sales work that would be truly productive. By refocusing on activities that directly gets stuff done, Stacy can become much more productive.

Stacy’s job isn’t yours. But we all substitute busyness for real productivity in the same ways.

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