Productivity May Not Be What You Think It Is

One of the reasons you might not be as productive as you want to be is because the idea isn’t well defined. Many people who believe they are productive, are not.

Not To-Dos

It is not crossing off tasks off a to-do list. No matter how many tasks you complete during a given day, you still may not have been productive with your time. You might have cleaned your desk and cleaned up the files on your desktop before you started work. After clearing some space, you opened your email inbox and responded to your email. Then you did some of the administrative work necessary for your job, only to look up and see that it’s 11:00 AM already.

The number of tasks your complete says nothing about how productive you are. It is the impact of the tasks you complete that determines that you were productive. Completing tasks that produce no effect—even when they are related to work and necessary—will make you unproductive. To improve your productivity, you have to focus on the few things that make a difference.

Not Busy

It’s not how busy you are. You can be the most active person in your company and still not be productive. Busyness and productive are inversely correlated; the busier you are, the less productive you will be. Some people pride themselves on being busy. They volunteer to be on task forces, take on projects, and agree to do work that belongs to others, mistakenly believing they are super-productive. Everyone appreciates a helpful person, but the decision to be busy is a decision to be unproductive.

Being busy is evidence that you are not productive. Being overcommitted with a dozen initiatives is to be under-committed to what’s truly important and what would make you productive. Less busy means more focused.

Not Hours Worked

It is not a measure of how much how many hours you work. Some people come to work early and stay late. They will share with you how many hours they are at work, using the number of hours as a proxy for how productive they are. Many of the people who count hours go to work (a location), but they don’t go to work (produce outcomes that make a difference). Hours in which you do no meaningful work is not a productive hour. There is no doubt that you have the internet at your workplace, as well as on your always-on, always-available smartphone.

The way you measure productivity is what you fill your hours with, not where your body was for those hours. Your location doesn’t say anything about productivity.

Not Meetings

It’s not the number of meetings. Ah, meetings. You attend a lot of them, and if you are a leader, you require a lot of them for others. There are good reasons to have a meeting, though many would benefit by being shorter and focused on a defined outcome (like a decision or a plan of action). Running from meeting to meeting is no evidence of how productive you are, though it might speak to the fact that you work in a business that values busyness.

Because you are sitting with people talking about your business is no indication that you are productive. The value of meeting might make it productive, but a large number of meetings may suggest the opposite is true.

Not Fighting Fires

It’s not the number of fires you extinguish unless you are a firefighter. You may sit in reactive mode, waiting for problems so you can go and dispatch them. If you believe you create value by tackling the endless issues and challenges that occur each day, you aren’t likely to be productive. If you are a manager, it is easy to occupy this role, avoiding the proactive projects, tasks, and initiatives that would prevent many of those fires from starting in the first place.

It feels good to solve problems, but real productivity would come from doing the work that keeps you from having to put out the same fires endlessly.

What Productivity Is

Being productive is the impact of what you do with your time, not the time itself, and not even how busy you were during that time. Was what you did with your time important? How are things better than they were before?

Much of the work that would make you productive isn’t urgent. It’s more often the work that requires your full focus and attention done proactively. It’s the projects or initiatives with no deadline. It’s the client conversations that don’t show up on your task list but are critically important to both of your futures. You clean your desk to get a sense of accomplishment—and to put off making the call to the client, knowing it is going to be difficult. You reorganize your task list so you can put off starting on the difficult, but necessary project.

Being productive is the decision to spend time on the very few things that will produce a big outcome and make an impact on your results. That decision requires that you narrow your task list to make room from what’s important. It requires you to be less busy, to avoid overcommitting, and to avoid meetings. If you are not a firefighter, you must give up the feeling of solving everyone’s problems for them as your full-time job and start doing the work that prevents recurring issues.

 

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