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Are You Productive Or Just Busy?

Is being busy the same as being productive?

The simple answer is ‘No’ or at least ‘Not necessarily’! It is easy to be busy, however to be productive requires much more thought, awareness and work.

Being productive and being busy are two very different things. You may have heard the expression, “busy fools” and it’s easy to get into a pattern of being busy, but not actually achieve anything. How many times have you been busy all day in the office yet your to-do list hasn’t gotten any smaller? Sound familiar?

We all have the same 24 hours in a day, but how we use this time is the key to a greater work-life balance. After all, if we are productive at work, we will have more time and energy for activities outside work - especially at the weekends without any work hangovers infringing on your free time.

Here are 10 alternative habits that you can develop to be more productive:

1. Use your commute time wisely. Plan for the day ahead, look at your to-do list, listen to audio books, make calls or even if it is just to relax with your eyes shut and focus on your breathing.

2. Handle difficult tasks first. You are never going to feel like tackling difficult or boring tasks first, yet they need to be done and you will have to focus on them eventually. Instead of delaying them and keeping them at the bottom of your to-do list, tackle them first while your mind is fresh. Not only will you get them out of the way, psychologically you will be motivated to complete the rest of your to-do list.

3. Say “No”! Don't give away your time so easily and agree to do everything that is asked of you. If you don't have time to commit to a project, attend a meeting or provide your input, explain that you are not available but do consider making a counter-offer and compromise. It is important to set boundaries and manage expectations but still be seen as reasonable and approachable.

4. Focus on one task. Focus your attention on completing one thing at a time - less of the multi-tasking. We can sometimes spend all our time zoning in and out of tasks. It is much more productive to start a task and complete it before moving on to the next one. Focus on one task and finish it to completion, rather than having many tasks started and nothing completed. Another tip while you are in this mindset is to group similar tasks together. Also time yourself, you will become more aware and more realistic of how long it takes to do particular tasks leading you to be more efficient when planning.

5. Avoid meetings. Whilst some meetings are mandatory and unavoidable, check if your attendance is actually compulsory. Maybe you can delegate send other members of your team in your place. Not only does this build trust within the team, they may also enjoy the variety and extra responsibility. Another option is to be included on the circulation of the meeting note so that you do not miss the key issues and action from the meeting.

6. Learn to delegate. Delegation when done in the right way can be very efficient. It is important to know when to delegate, how to delegate and who to delegate to - you can always be on hand to provide support. Also consider reaching out to other members of your team and accept and admit that you have too much on your plate. By reaching out, you are demonstrating to more junior members of your team that it is fine to ask for help and are leading by example.

7. Cut out distractions. We are surrounded by technology, whether it is mobile or email as well as co-workers who will have queries. Get into a habit of putting your phone away or shutting down your emails, or at least turning off notifications and just checking from time to time. This will increase your concentration to get on with completing your to-do list. Better still, if you have a time sensitive deadline or project, find a room where you know you can just focus and not be disturbed.

8. Manage your emails. Check emails at various points throughout the day rather than having them distract you constantly, taking your focus and attention away from your present task. RAFT is a handy acronym many people use, Read, Act, File or Trash. Or the 4 D's works equally as well. Delete it, Do it, Delegate it or Defer it!

9. 80/20 rule. (Pareto's Principle). 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. So in the workplace 80% of your results come from 20% of your actual work. We can spend most of our time doing things that look important but are actually not that important on reflection. Take a step back, reflect and find your 20% and concentrate on that part.

10. Take regular breaks. In between tasks, stretch your body, go for a stroll at lunchtime, find a few minutes to socialise and build meaningful relationships with your co workers and team.

As a coach I come across these issues time and time again. Feel free to get in touch if you need additional support or advice.

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