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Are You Really Being Productive, Or Just Busy?

Very Busy Woman at a Computer


There are a times when I am so busy, it feels like the work might never end. And yet, at the end of the day when I look back to say, what have I accomplished . . . it doesn’t seem like very much got done. Or maybe nothing at all, at least, nothing that I set out to do, things that I said were important for me to get done that day. I hadn’t really been productive, just busy.

Thankfully, that happens way less often these days.

But, it turns out, I’m not alone in that. In fact surveys have shown that even fortune 500 level company CEOs sometimes suffer from this same  syndrome.  It’s called Reactive Time Management Syndrome.

I bet you’ve experienced it too.

What Is Reactive Time Management

It looks something like this . . .

You get up and you have your day planned out, all the important things you want to get done. But, before you get started you stop to check your email. An important client has a question that needs an answer asap. So, you stop what you had planned to just shoot off a quick email to answer. While you’re typing your response a Facebook alert pops up, it’s someone asking to join your group. So as soon as you finish your email, you hop on over them to admit them, but they have some questions about the group, so you have a “quick” discussion with them. After all you don’t want to be rude, and they could become a client.

No sooner than you finish with them your phone starts ringing non-stop. You answer every time. Suddenly, you look up and it’s three o’clock in the afternoon.  You’re left with your “to do” list untouched and the day almost gone.

Sound familar?

Yes you were crazy busy. And, yes some “stuff” got done. But, I bet it wasn’t any of the things that move the needle towards accomplishing the things you said were important, or ultimately reaching your goals.

The Problem With Reactive Time Management

The main problem is that it keeps you spinning your wheels in busy mode, without any real productivity. You’re constantly choosing urgent over important. And yet, it’s the important things that will get you where you want to go. Busy is like walking on a treadmill, when what you really want to do is get to get to your friend’s house across town. No matter how long you walk on that treadmill, you’re not getting any closer to your destination. You have to get off the treadmill for that.

Which if you know me, you’ve probably already guessed, I’m gonna say “and that’s a mindset thing.”

But how? That’s the real crux of the matter isn’t it? How do you start choosing important over urgent?

The Key To Getting Off The Treadmill

Believe it or not, it starts with setting boundries and creating new habits. That’s why I say it’s a mindset thing. Chances are you’re not  used to setting boundries on your time and space. Perhaps you believe that you don’t have a right to, or even deserve to.  You most likely even feel gulity about saying no, or have a hard time even forming that word especially if it’s to your children or spouse.

But, set boundries you must! learning to say “no” is like a super power.

I started small. Starting small is way easier to handle and achieve success.  So here are a few tips you can use to start small too.

  • Write out your agenda for the day on a small whiteboard:

Put it where you can’t misss seeing it. Make a space where you can check off each item as you accomplish them. The board will help you stay focused on getting the right things done. And, as a bonus you can celebrate each check mark you get to put up.  EXTRA TIP: Try to break big projects into smaller components. Then check all those items off as you complete them. It’s much more motivating than waiting for the whole project to be finished.

  • Instead of checking your email first thing, check your agenda for the day.

Then decide which item you’re going to tackle first and get to work. Tackle the hardest items when you’re most productive. So, if you’re a morning person, then tackle it first thing. But, if you’re more of an afternoon, evening kind of gal like me, then do the easier stuff first and work up to the harder items as your energy and momentum builds. There’s no magic one size fits all kind of formula, just do you.

  • Give yourself “working time-frames” for each to do item.

Focus on doing one item at a time until it’s done, or time is up. EXTRA TIP: Be honest with yourself about how long you can stay focused. If you know your mind starts to wonder after 90 minutes, or 30, make that the time frame. Then take a break before starting another working session. You can schedule multiple sessions for the same item if it will take longer than your current focus stamina.

  • Let your voicemail do it’s job!

Only answer your phone and return calls during non “working session” periods. This one was extra hard for me. I would always, answer the phone! Folks relied on it. I would answer my phone no matter what. I still answer my phone when I hear it ringing. But, when I’m working, I put it on “do not disturb” and lay it face down. That way I don’t hear it ringing and have to fight the impulse to answer it. There’s a trick for everything if you’re creative. You can do the same thing with your emails. You can even give yourself specific times during the day to check and answer it.

  • Establish boundries or simple signals that let people know you don’t want to be disturbed.

We all have those family members and friends that insist on calling us during our working hours. It’s up to us to teach them how to treat us. Establishing clear boundries or signals is the easiest way to do that. It can be a closed door, or a tabletop sign. It can even be as simple as putting your phone on do not disturb. Call the person back when you’re done with work. Eventually people get the message if you enforce your boundries consistently.

I hope this article will help you start to be more productive than busy. I offer weekly group meetings where we work on these and other mindset shifts in a supportive environment.  Click the link to learn more about the mindset & visibility mastermind.

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