Are We Busy or Are We Productive? 

by Kory Kogon

Shutterstock-192662930The “new normal” seems to be that we are overwhelmed and don’t know where our time has gone at the end of the day. We are connected and “on” almost twenty-four hours a day. We are very busy, so much so that “busy” has become a badge of honor in this century. We often feel that if we are not busy, we may be seen as not working hard enough. But the real question is, are we spending our time on the things that are truly important and will help us feel accomplished at the end of each day? In a six-year FranklinCovey study, 351,613 respondents indicated that more than 40 percent of their time was being spent on activities that were not important to either themselves or their organization.

So, what does it take to change behavior to actually get more done? How do we move beyond the “ordinary” and beyond being “busy”? Our mindset must change, in order for our behavior to change to get better results. We get to choose to move beyond the busy, day after day, and instead live each day feeling like we have made a high-value contribution — personally, professionally or both. It is about intentionally accomplishing a few more things each day that truly make a difference: a well-done project completed at work, a great uninterrupted conversation with our spouse or child, and some uninterrupted thinking or time for relaxing for ourself. That is productivity. And it’s not easy to do. It takes work, discipline and execution. This is where having the right mindset is imperative. The first ingredient of changing one’s mindset is knowing the cause of time management problems in today’s extremely fast-paced world, so we understand why we need to think differently from how we think now.

The Productivity Paradox

It is both easier and harder than ever to achieve extraordinary productivity. All the wonderful things our technology does for us, such as 3-D printing, are astounding. And yet, technology does lure us into the always-on mode, combined with the unstoppable flow of information coming from everywhere all the time.

We have identified the three key root problems that keep the paradox alive and well.

First, we are making more decisions than ever before. Every email, demand or request for an answer to a question is a decision we have to make, and there are thousands of them coming at us every day. To survive, we handle them as they come, which keeps us busy — while we are missing or never getting to some of the higher-value decisions that we should be making.

Second, while we are trying to deal with the high number of decisions overloading our brain, our attention is under attack. Dings, pings and blue screens are hijacking our attention and time, while the decisions just continue to overflow.

Last but not least, all of these issues are just wearing us out. The never-ending stream of information coming at us has created an energy crisis for us. Our brain needs a vast amount of energy to make all those decisions, and it gets sucked dry by the time we drop into bed at night. A few hours later, we get up and have to do it all over again. This requires a new mindset: making good decisions about that on which we spend our time, keeping our attention on the most important things, and having the energy to accomplish it all.

Productivity by Choice

Choice 1: Act on the Important, Don’t React to the Urgent.

What is key, when something comes up that demands attention, is to assess its true importance. Determining the return on the moment requires Pausing, Clarifying and Deciding as to each and every incoming opportunity and whether or not it is:

Urgent and important (necessary),

Urgent and not important (a distraction),

Not urgent and not important (a waste), or

Not urgent and important (extraordinary — high-value contribution).

This entails being mindful and intentional about all of the incoming, as a filter to help the mind find the high-value decisions in the midst of being busy.

Choice 2: Go for Extraordinary, Don’t Settle for Ordinary

People often have many roles they play in their life, and it is impossible to really excel in all of them. Making the best use of time and effort means picking the few that need the greatest attention now: director, mentor, parent, child, volunteer, for example. The choices need to be written down so they can be reviewed. Individuals should evaluate effort looking at where their strengths lie and where they need improvement. Along with this, they should write out what their vision of success looks like in each of the roles. This exercise creates a visual framework that will guide the decision-making to get the best return on the moment.

Choice 3: Schedule the Big Rocks, Don’t Sort Gravel

Focused attention enables a person to execute on those things that are most important to him or her. This starts with the 30/10 promise. That means taking 30 minutes, before the week begins, to identify all of the “big rocks — the most important things connected to the person’s particular roles — then calendaring time to complete them. The more specifically they’re calendared — not only the day, but a timeslot — the higher the probabilities of accomplishment in the midst of being busy. The second part of the 30/10 promise is taking ten minutes at the end of the day to review what was accomplished that day — and then reconciling the calendar, moving things around, as priorities will shift and that which is urgent but not important will appear. But it requires the diligence to focus on the “big rocks” first.

Choice 4: Rule Your Technology, Don’t Let It Rule You

Communication media pervade our lives. Individuals need to learn how to manage the addiction to technology. Tech addiction falls into the category of “urgent, not important” (a distraction), or “not urgent, not important” (a waste). The more conscious a person is of this, the more time and attention he or she will have to act on that which is most important.

Choice 5: Fuel Your Fire, Don’t Burn Out

The brain requires a lot of energy to make high-value decisions and stay focused in this day and age. More than ever, diet, exercise, stress reduction, sleep, and social connection with others are the requirements to provide it with the vast amount of oxygen and nutrients it needs to move beyond just being busy.

More than anything, extraordinary productivity is a question of being conscious in the moment. And all we need to do to make this change is take small steps each day to be more aware of our surroundings, the people we work with, and the opportunities for high-value decisions about where we spend our time, attention and energy. It’s all in our mindset. We can choose to be busy and ordinary, or to be busy yet extraordinary.

Kory Kogon, one of the authors of The 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity, is Global Practice Leader for Productivity for FranklinCovey, a global company specializing in performance improvement. She focuses her research and content development around time management, project management and communication skills, bringing more than 25 years of business expertise that ranges from frontline positions to executive team member. She also co-wrote Project Management Essentials for the Unofficial Project Manager and Presentation Advantage.

Recognized for her ability to provide the practical application and logic that consistently motivates people to take action, Kogon has earned a Certificate in the Foundations of NeuroLeadership from the NeuroLeadership Institute of which she is an ongoing member. 

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