It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?
–Henry David Thoreau
When I was younger I had a very important job. People’s lives literally depended on whether or not I was focused and paying attention and doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing at all times. I was pretty high up you might say. I couldn’t be bothered by the people moving around me, asking me questions, or in any way, distracting me. I was so busy I couldn’t even tell you how busy I was! What I was not though, was productive. Any idea what my job was?
Yeah. I was a lifeguard! (What! It IS an important job! Being in a lifeguard tower elevates your position too!) My BUSY job was to sit in a tower and look out over the water and make sure that no one was drowning (I told you people’s lives depended on me!).
While I WAS busy, I wasn’t being productive. In fact, I was pretty much bored to tears a lot of the time. The only time I was productive was when someone needed help in the water. I remember one time a few of us guards took a bottle of baby oil and put it on the giant floating bear in the pool so we could be busy watching people try to get on it. This backfired on us, though, because in all the commotion to get on that big slippery floatation device, a child fell off and was unable to get a hold of anything. They couldn’t swim either.
Luckily I was doing my BUSY work because I immediately spotted the child in distress and leapt from my tower to the “rescue”. At that point, I became PRODUCTIVE. My actions at that point resulted in the child being saved from drowning. That’s the difference really. You can always be doing something, but if that something doesn’t result in something being done or produced, then it is just busy work.
These days, it is hard to tell what constitutes being busy and what amounts to being productive. If you don’t read through your hundreds of emails, you might miss a task that has to be done by a certain time or an important message letting you know how to do something needing to be done. However, if you read through the emails and there was nothing important in them… well, did you just waste that time? It’s hard to say. The definition of busy is “not at leisure; otherwise engaged.” (Thank you dictionary.com!) So many things can lay under that canopy! I’m busy eating, busy watching a show on TV, busy sleeping… you get the idea.
Being busy with a cause, or bringing about something (thanks again dictionary.com!) is what being productive is. When you are busy making the sandwich, you produce your lunch!
So how do you become more productive? According to this Forbes.com article, there are 10 easy ways to be more productive at work. It suggests things like, make a to-do list, take short breaks, do 1 thing at a time, and even put on some music! Inc.com gives fifteen suggestions (which you can read about here) which are pretty good. My favorite one (and one I use myself) is the “two-minute rule.” Basically, if there is something that can be done in 2 minutes or less, you do that task right then. The idea behind it is that it takes more time to write it down and come back to it later than it does to just knock it out right then.
Another suggestion they use (which I should probably implement myself) is to TURN OFF NOTIFICATIONS. There are lots of little distractions that come through on my phone or social media that divert my attention away from the task I’m working on. Turning those off helps you focus on your task at hand and you get it done faster, which of course frees up more time to do other tasks!
Of course, Entrepreneur.com gives a list of 7 that you can read here. The one that stuck out the most to me was to eat a lunch that doesn’t make you want to sleep when you finish eating it. I struggle with this one sometimes because I enjoy… hearty meals J It makes a lot of sense, though. If you’re not ready for a nap after you eat, you’re likely to be able to get more done! A few other suggestions the article gives are to create deadlines for yourself and meet those deadlines and to create your schedule for the following day at the end of your current work day.
If those articles aren’t enough for you, robinsharma.com gives a list of twenty-one tips to become the most productive person you know. They are very “to the point” and a lot of them are pretty good suggestions!
I recently sold my xBox One because I was spending too much time play games with friends and not enough time going after what I really wanted. Eliminating distractions, even “busy work”, from your daily schedule will not only demonstrate to yourself how much you want to be productive but also help you to BE more productive… not just busy!
At the end of the day, you’re going to give your attention to what appeals to you the most. So if you really want to be a productive person and not just a busy one, you will be. It takes work and practice and patience to develop the skills you need to do that, and it will ultimately depend on how much you want it.
The next time you are doing a task, you can ask yourself, “Is what I am doing going to accomplish something of value? Or will it just be checking something off my list of things to do?”