4 Ways to Be More Productive, Not Just Busy
All of us seem to be getting busier and busier. Despite technology meaning that many of the things that used to take up time in our lives are now more easily accessible than ever, we still continue to be busy. The words "I'm busy" are used like a badge of honor. If you’re not busy, you’re being lazy, and laziness is the very antithesis of what an entrepreneur is meant to stand for. Chronic busyness is one of the only addictions in the Western world that people celebrate. It's associated with importance, drive and achievement.
Success coach Steve Chandler wrote in his book Shift Your Mind, Shift the World about busyness being laziness. Being too busy is not the optimal state. It is quite simply an indication of a state of chaos, not a state of focus. Let’s not forget, focus is the optimal state to get things done effectively. By focusing on the meaningful things we need to do — and doing those well — we actually achieve more and, in the process, simplify our lives.
Of course, there are times in our lives that we will need to be busy. When you're fundraising for a startup, for example, or launching a new product. However, if we constantly live our lives in a state of chronic busyness and accept that as our state of being, that’s when we’re choosing not to address what is going on.
So, how can we make sure we are productive rather than just busy?
Apply the Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principle states that 20 percent of our efforts generate 80 percent of results. This might not be the gospel truth in terms of an exact percentage to apply in all cases, but it does make a valid point that much of what we do on a day-to-day basis does not contribute to or has very little impact on the results we want to achieve.
The problem is that most of us haven't taken the time to think What is the 20 percent of what I do that creates the results I want? Even if we don’t know the answer, it's often worth finding out — especially in a start-up, where time is a scarce resource for the founders and their team.
Instead, we tend to overwhelm ourselves with doing too much at once. And when we overload our plate, unfortunately we lack the focus to perform at our peak. Find the few really important things that you should focus on each day or week and the activities that create the greatest results, then delegate the rest or ignore it. It frees up energy and brainpower to focus on the tasks that produce results while avoiding procrastination or burnout.
Don't get carried away by the whirlwind
How many of us start our days focused on what needs to get done and then get completely swept away by a whirlwind?
Most of our workdays are filled with unexpected, urgent and routine tasks that will keep us from doing anything new. These tasks are called the whirlwind. The key to being productive is not being constantly blown off course by the whirlwind.
If we have our important goals and the activities we know that we need to do to create results, we need to make sure that we spend a portion of our time each day taking consistent steps towards those goals. The whirlwind is often not as urgent as we think it is. Learn to be more discerning about what classifies as urgent, what's important and what's simply not important or time-critical.
Create time for focused deep work
Neuroscience studies into how the brain works suggest that every time we switch tasks (what we might traditionally call multi-tasking), it's "expensive" for us in terms of lost time and productivity. For example, have you ever been in a Zoom meeting and tried to write an email or send a message at the same time? We might not think that this is a big deal, but over the course of a day the cumulative effect is that we lose around 40 percent of our productivity. If we are trying to do a complicated task that requires concentration, it means we're more likely to make errors and lose even more time in the switching process.
The solution can be blocking off time for focused work, removing all distractions and focusing 100 percent on that task until it is completed. This is especially helpful for complicated tasks, because it means we can get it done in the shortest amount of time and with the highest quality. By removing all distractions, we are also more likely to get into a flow state from which our highest quality work is often produced.
Schedule time off/gaps in your diary
The brain is not designed to be on 24/7. By allowing ourselves time off, or slow time, we allow ourselves time to be creative and innovative, which are qualities essential to run a long term, relevant business. We need to have that free flow of ideas, and it is also better to approach problems in a creative way to produce a creative solution, rather than from a stressed, anxious state.
Allowing slow thinking time by going for a walk or meditating, for example, gets you into a relaxed state, which gets you into a mental state that's the most open to new ideas and solutions.