The Difference Between Busy and Productive

Productivity is not a measurement of how many tasks you cross off your to-do list or how much work you do. It’s a measurement of the progress you make on important outcomes.

It is very easy to busy yourself doing all kinds of things that make no difference to the results you are trying to achieve. You can say “yes” to all kinds of work and projects that consume your time and energy and, while interesting, do nothing to move your major projects or initiatives or goals.

Narrow Your Focus

Being productive is about narrowing your focus. It’s about prioritization. It means that you carefully select what is important, eliminating things that are not so as to invest your time and energy where it makes a difference. It’s not a badge of honor to be busy, no matter how many things you get done in a day. A successful day is a day when you make major progress on what is most important.

If you struggle with this idea, a time journal is one way to take a measurement and make adjustments. Start by writing down everything you do from the time you wake up until you go to sleep. Do this for three or four days, being completely honest with yourself. That means writing down that you spent 20 minutes in bed looking at social media on your phone, that you spent an hour on the phone with issues that belong to someone else, and that you spent just over two hours in your inbox. Maybe you spent forty-five minutes on your most important outcomes.

Raise Your Standard

By looking at what you really do—and how little of it is related to the outcomes you want to produce—you create the awareness that always precedes a positive change. That positive change requires that you to raise your standard, that you decide and act on the idea that you are going to prioritize what’s most important instead of what makes you busy.

If what you are doing is not moving you closer to your goals, then stop doing those things and do something different. There is no reason to be so busy that you are not productive.

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