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The Difference Between Being Busy And Being Productive

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In today’s high-speed, ever-connected times, being “busy” is one of the most valued social currencies. If we’re busy, then surely we must be important, successful, valuable and living full lives. So “busy” becomes a proxy for inflating our egos, both for ourselves and for those around us. It’s because of this that being too busy to do something becomes such a valid excuse for not getting things done.  

In using “being busy” as an excuse for not doing scary, challenging, intimidating or important things in our lives, we turn “busy” into the new lazy. Think about it, how many times have you used “being busy” as a justification for anything from being inconsiderate to missing deadlines?

“The greatest enemy of good thinking is busyness.” ― John C. Maxwell

You want more success in life, but how productive do you really think you are? When asked how productive they are, most professionals will answer that they’re always so busy and manage to fit so many activities into their work day, they simply can’t do more.

But ask any of them to review how effectively they manage their time, and most of them are shocked at how much procrastination their activities actually involve. There’s a difference between being busy and getting things done and it influences your success directly.

How Can You Tell If You’re Being Busy Or Productive?

A study conducted by Stanford Professor Clifford Nass in 2009, showed that chronic multitaskers were consistently outperformed by non-multitaskers in a range of different tasks. Interestingly, the study found that even when the multitaskers were given activities that required them to focus on one single activity, the multitaskers still used their brains less effectively, suggesting that a cluttered, disorganised mind can have long-term effects that spread outside of multitasking situations.  So how can you tell if you’re a busy multitasker or a productive achiever?

Take a moment to go through the three questions below:

1. How long is your to-do list?

If you find yourself saying “yes” to everything and consequently having a mile long to-do list each day, chances are, you’re always very busy and rarely actually productive. Instead of filling up the time with tasks (usually ones that don’t really matter), productive people are selective about what they choose to do and plan strategically about when to do it. This typically results in a shorter to-do list with items that are actually completed effectively by the end of the day.

2. Are you prioritising?

While busy people are focused on any action, productive people are focused on the clarity and purpose of each action. Being selective about which courses of action are most important and focusing the right time and resources on those actions often results in more productive work being done in less time. You cannot jump aimlessly from one task to the next, hoping to get everything done. When you prioritise one task over another, always ask yourself, why am I choosing this task now? why must it come first? It’s a simple, but powerful question.

3. Are you tracking your progress?

Busy people have a tendency of equating action with accomplishment – you fit so many activities into one day, surely you must have accomplished something, right? If it takes you 20 steps to achieve something that could have taken you 5 steps, it’s obvious that you’re not using your time in the most productive way.

Productive people don’t stall their accomplishments by aimlessly tackling random tasks, they take the most strategic and direct path to achieving goals that are clearly defined and can therefore be tracked, measured and assessed with the help of detailed plans, deadlines and goals.  They want to see the return of investment in their time.

“I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” ― Carl Sandburg

Anyone can make the transition from being busy to being productive, so you have no excuse! The first step to transitioning is being honest with yourself. Why are you always so busy? Why do you want to be so busy? Why do you want others to think you’re busy? How does your ‘being busy vs being productive’ affect your success?

These are all questions that you need to answer for yourself and be honest if you want to start onto the path of developing new productivity skills and techniques and therefore, more success in.

What things do you do to stay productive? Please leave your thoughts below!

Kirstin O’Donovan is a “multinational” productivity coach, author and founder of TopResultsCoaching an international company providing coaching services in nearly a dozen countries. With over 10 years working in the field of coaching and personal development, she provides her expertise to help individuals create the life and results they desire.   Kirstin also writes for various international publications in personal development. Kirstin, a certified NLP Practitioner, holds various qualifications, certificates and credentials related to personal and business coaching. She is the author of ‘Maximize your time to maximize your profit’ and Co-Author of ‘The Confident Woman’ and ‘There is GOLD inside YOU.’

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