Ask anyone these days and they say they are busy or “crazy-busy”. To say otherwise would be somehow to admit that you aren’t ambitious or important. But being busy is not the same as being productive. The question we really need to ask ourselves is at the end on the day, not how busy was I, but what have I achieved and what impact has this had.

The Busy Trap: Get some Focus

Ask anyone these days and they say they are busy or “crazy-busy”. To say otherwise would be somehow to admit that you aren’t ambitious or important. You’ve probably had to listen to people go on about how busy they are. Ironic that they are so busy but they have time to talk to you for 10 minutes about how busy they are. Somehow it is boasting and complaining at the same time.

But being busy is not the same as being productive. The question we really need to ask ourselves is at the end on the day, not how busy was I, but what have I achieved and what impact does this have on me, my customers or my organisation.

So how do you make sure that you are productive, not just busy?

Step 1: Get some real focus

Find out what is really, really important. Make sure that you distinguish between important vs urgent things (watch video here). You’ll likely have to do both urgent and important things, but decide on the top 2 or 3 really important projects and tasks that will have an impact on you, your team, your customers.

Step 2: Set clear goals

Turn these projects into clear goals. Motivation through goal setting has been around since the late 1960s and lies behind much of the corporate performance management systems, company KPI’s, the self-help industry and coaching. It is tried and true technique. More recent research shows us also how selective our attention can be if we are really focused on a goal – we may even miss a big hairy gorilla.

Step 3: Make the goal your own

If we are intrinsically motivated because we want to achieve something, we will achieve better than we feel we have to do it because someone else says so. But often real life your goals are given by a boss or cascaded from a strategy in which we weren’t part of developing. You may not have had much or any input into setting the goal. Never-the-less try to reframe it and see how the goal could help you, your team or your customers.
For example, say you have been assigned a task you think is boring, like reviewing all contracts used in last few years and coming up with a standard template contract. The first part of the work of finding and reading dozens of contracts you know is going to tedious and boring. It is hard to motivate yourself to do it. Think about what will be the impact of the project? Once you have developed a new template you know that you and your colleagues you will have quicker and better process for the next contact. Remember the times you’ve been in a rush to get a contract done and now this will be easier. If you reframe it to see the reward for you, the gratitude of your collegaues, you will be more motivated.

Step 4: Feel the buzz of progress

The things that gives us a real buzz is making some progress. In a huge study of over 200 professional across many industries Therese Amabile and her colleagues found the biggest buzz people got out of work was making progress. Set some small steps towards your big goal and feel the sense of achievement when you’ve made progress.