Productive Versus Busy

Stop me if you've heard this one before:   You're sitting in front of your magic box, thinking you're actually getting something done, but at the end of the day you look at your to do list, and very little actually got accomplished. Wait, what?

I know, right?  Here you are surfing the net looking for really cool stuff, you've got Facebook and Twitter open, you're zipping all over the place, and in the meantime that project you're working on is minimized on your desktop getting absolutely nothing done to it.  Boy, where did all the time go?

It went everywhere but the thing it was supposed to get applied to.  Being productive.

I remember when I worked in management for a customer service call center some years ago.  I'd make a list of things that I need to get done, and I'd check them off as I did them.  I also worked 16 hour days, so I was pretty beat up by the time the day was over.  However, let no one say I wasn't productive.

Here's the rub on that, and this is the big difference between being a Captain and a Sailor.  When you're a sailor, you're accountable to the Captain.  When you're the Captain, you're the last man standing. You are literally your own accountability partner.  Trust me on this, if you're short on discipline, you're going to be pretty long on distractions.

I want to introduce you to something called Parkinson's Law, which states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion".   What people usually don't mention when referencing Parkinson's Law is that it was an essay written in jest.  However, the 'law' is absolutely true:

Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and despatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half-an-hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when going to the pillar-box in the next street. The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.

When you're working for yourself, it's up to you.  There isn't anyone to tell you what to do, how to do it, and there's no deadlines.  You HAVE to get focused, and you have to keep yourself on task.

A couple of tips on how to get yourself in that direction:

1.  Forget multitasking.  Multitasking is a great way to do several things poorly at the same time.  When you're working on a thing, work on THAT thing.  When it's done, move on to the NEXT thing.  I know, we've trained our brains that we don't feel productive unless we've got all these different irons in the fire at the same time.  It doesn't work.  Follow one thread until completion, and when you find that unitasking boosts your productivity by a massive amount, you'll find the mental energy to keep that up.

2.  Have a plan.   On Sunday Nights, I have a date with a cruel mistress called My Calendar.  This is when I block out my time for the week.  I put the things I know I have to do in first (like my day job), and my wife's schedule, and then I figure out what I have left.  Here's my one rule about calendars:  If it's in my calendar, it's happening.  If it's not, then it isn't.  Now, on a separate sheet of paper, write down all the things you'd like to accomplish this week.  This is your project list.  Now, If you're like me, you're going to want to block out project time.  In that time, figure out what things fit in that time, and block out time in your calendar for project time.  MAKE SURE YOU WRITE IN YOUR CALENDAR NOTES WHAT THAT TIME IS FOR.  Then, and here is the kicker:  Do it.  Just that.

3. Walk away.  Yup.  You're an entrepreneur, not a machine.  When I tried to run a podcast network, I was in my studio 16-20 hours a day.  I didn't leave.  As a result, I got burned out, and I got to the point where I started resenting going into the studio for anything.  Trust me on this, because I've lived this one: If you don't block out time to get up and get away from your workplace, you will go batty.  Go for a walk.  Go exercise.  Catch a TV show. Whatever, but please get away from where it is you work.

4.  The Fun Part.  That project list?  You get to cross things off!  Once a week or so, check off the completed items off that list.  You're going to feel good about this.  So take some time to appreciate what you have managed to get done.  Ideally, this is before you make up your list for the next week.  (This may be a good time to take one of those breaks I mentioned, between checking off your list, and creating new stuff for it.)

5.  Rinse, Lather, Repeat.   Every week.  In fact, this should be on your calendar!  Set it, and do NOT forget it.

The important thing is that you're setting some goals for yourself and accomplishing them.   You're building yourself some accountability in the process.  You're also setting a finite amount of time in order to force yourself to focus on the task at hand.

But what if I have no idea what my schedule is on different days?

Great question.  Michael Hyatt designed an 'ideal week', where he has each day--and time of day--dedicated to a different 'theme'.  For example, Mondays are dedicated to 'Team' tasks, where as Friday is dedicated to 'Planning' tasks.  Check this out, you may find it helpful.  Also, down the left hand side, he has time blocked out for 'focus areas' like SELF, WORK, FAMILY, and so on.

If you can get into the habit of creating focused times for work, and working on one thing until it's done before moving on, you'll really get to like the idea of being productive instead of busy.

One word of warning:  Unless your job involves social media, stay far away from it while you're working on other things.  It's too easy to get distracted by Twitter and Facebook.  If you must deal with social media as part of your job, then block out time for that on your calendar and stick to it.  Social Media creep is a killer, don't allow yourself to get sucked into that. 

Take action and decide today to be a productive person, and enjoy what kind of life you can have when you're not tired from being 'busy' all the time.