Being Busy vs. Being Productive

Recently, a friend of mine asked me a casual question after she knew I’d had an especially busy weekend working on various projects: “So, did you get a lot done?” I thought back on my seemingly hectic Saturday and Sunday, and hmm, no… I didn’t actually cross off a lot of my To-Do’s… What the heck?! I felt so BUSY.

This really got me thinking, because I truly was on-the-go and diligent all weekend, and it was unsettling to realize that I’d spent all those hours of hard work making only a very small dent in my enormous list of things to do. Why was I working so hard, yet only accomplishing one or two things? It made no sense.

After taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, I was able to attribute the problem to three main things: for me, it came down to time management, taking on too much, and trying too hard to multitask. What I also discovered, my dear fellow busy-bees, were a few key ways to help fix these problems. After applying the following changes to my chaotic life, I was soon back on track and checking things off like it was goin’ out of style:

Prioritize: Organization is key to productivity (and to maintaining a healthy level of sanity). And bonus – this involves my favourite thing ever: Lists! There’s just something about getting it down on paper that is super helpful. First step, pick up a pen and make a list of all the things you need and want to do. Star or highlight the urgent and high-priority items. Next, I like to organize the starred items between two lists: Things To Do Today, and Things To Do This Week. Finally, the items that didn’t get starred as priority are included on a Things To Do This Month or Beyond list, because they’re not pressing and I’ll get to them as I can – no pressure. After you’ve finished planning, keep your lists where you can see them, as a visible reminder – and you may even want to schedule some alerts into your calendar to help you stay on top of everything.

Say “no”: We’re all people pleasers to some extent. We strive to make our friends, our bosses and our clients happy, which is a good thing. A great thing, really. But what’s not a good thing is biting off more than we can chew and half-assing our 156 various commitments as a result of having a too-full plate. Before saying “sure, no problem” whenever an opportunity is presented or a favour is asked of you, take some time to evaluate whether or not it’s relevant and beneficial. If it’s not, and you really can’t fit it in, it’s okay to say “I’m sorry, but I’ve got a ton on the go and unfortunately I just can’t commit to that right now”.

Quit multitasking: We’ve always been taught that multitasking is a great skill to have, because it means that we can accomplish much more in less time. I don’t think that could be more untrue! Have you ever noticed that when you attempt to work on various things at once, you only feel more stressed out and overwhelmed, because you’re constantly aware of everything you have to do? Researchers have even proved that besides being unproductive, multitasking is actually impossible, as the human brain can only truly focus on one task at a time. Think about it: when you’re working on six different things, you’re not actually simultaneously doing six things, right? What you’re really doing is switching back and forth between six tasks extremely quickly. This allows for a greater chance of making errors, or letting things slip through the cracks entirely. Take a breath, look at your list, and focus on things one at a time.

So if you’re finding yourself perpetually busy and overwhelmed, but not accomplishing as much as you’d like to, try giving those tips a shot. Who knows, if things go well, you might even end up with some spare time to take that bubble bath you’ve been craving, or tune out to a couple episodes of Modern Family! 😉

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3 Responses to Being Busy vs. Being Productive

  1. Yvonne Young March 3, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    I have been anti-multitasking for some time now, so I wholeheartedly agree. It’s a resume buzzword that is intended to demonstrate our ability to many things at one time- but are we really? If I AM multitasking, I notice the quality of my work suffers, as you mentioned. I pick my task, turn off my email alerts, put my phone away (EGADS!), put on those headphones to help me focus, and come up for air when I need a break or I am DONE.

    Love this article! Oh also, great tip on making a few different lists based on urgency.

    • Sarah Clark March 10, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback Yvonne, glad you agree and that you enjoyed my article! 🙂

  2. Bobbie Long March 18, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    Great article, Sarah!

    This is something we all struggle with. I used to be so hard on myself for wanting to do so much and not having enough time to get it all done. I would be upset if I didn’t complete my list and feel like a failure.
    I’ve changed that and I now celebrate the small successes and accomplishments. It has changed how I go about tackling my never ending to-do list.

    I hope others benefit from your great advice.


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