THE INC. LIFE

You’re Probably Not as Busy as You Say You Are. Here’s How to Be Truly Productive

Too often, people mistake activity for productivity.

Share on
BY Maria Matarelli - 13 Mar 2018

You're Probably Not as Busy as You Say You Are. Here's How to Be Truly Productive

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

"Are you busy?"

When someone asks you that question, you probably nod your head in a fervent "yes" without even thinking. You probably feel like you never have extra time to do the things you really want to do.

But let me ask you something: Are you actually being productive?

Busy people and productive people are not the same. You can be busy without being productive, and you can be highly productive while still having plenty of time for other things.

So the question you have to ask yourself is: What are you actually busy doing? And is that busy work as goal-oriented as it could be?

Too often, people mistake activity for productivity.

They end up measuring their effectiveness by how busy they are. The more sweat involved, the more we're getting done.

As a former workaholic, I can tell you that's far from the truth.

Consider this classic physics example of "work." A man spends all day pushing against a boulder, expelling all of his effort, all of his strength, but the boulder doesn't move. Is any work actually being done? No, it isn't, because the boulder has to change position for it to count as work.

That's why you need to assess your own work and make sure that the effort you're expending is going into work that's proactive, and more importantly, productive.

The best way to begin is by breaking down goals into bite-sized chunks.

When you think about your next goal, think about the incremental steps you need to accomplish that goal. This will allow you to minimize the grand scale of your efforts and focus on just one piece at a time.

Say your goal is to build a house. You wouldn't work on part of the basement, then the roof, a few walls, then the plumbing. No, you'd build it in stages. You lay the foundation. You build the framework. You install the plumbing before you put up the walls. You build and you accomplish an incremental piece of the entire house.

The overall goal of building a house may seem overwhelming. But as you break it down into incremental steps, it becomes attainable.

And after the last coat of paint has dried, you're able to stand back, admire your work and say, "Wow, I just built a house!"

You don't even have to wait until everything is done to begin getting value from your home. Once you have finished the first bedroom and bathroom, you could stay there while you finish building out the other rooms and installing appliances. You approach the process incrementally.

Working toward your goals can use the same process.

But in order to begin making progress, you need to have your goals clearly defined.

A dream written down is a goal. A goal broken down into steps is a plan--but you have to back up that plan with action to make it a reality. Just like building a house, clear blueprints need to exist in order for all of those small pieces to come together. The vision must be clear.

One of the best ways to increase your productivity and work in the right direction? Slow down to speed up.

Getting things right in the beginning will save you time on damage control in the long run. First, look at the big picture. As that picture becomes clear, so will the incremental steps necessary to paint that picture.

But you don't want to treat this process like a freight train, endlessly barreling forward from point A to B to C. That mentality leads to a one-track mind, which is not the most productive mindset to have when trying to reach your ultimate goals. You'll expel too much energy on one task. It's usually more beneficial to accomplish smaller tasks in order to work toward the main task.

You must be able to pivot. When you take a holistic view of your life and visualize how your actions align with the top three to four things that really matter, we call this Personal Agility. It's a simple framework that helps you prioritize what's most important, do more of what matters, and recognize when to do less of things that don't.

Prioritize the incremental steps to satisfy the larger goal.

Being flexible and pivoting is what allows you to move between tasks without missing a step. After all, if everything matters, then nothing matters.

Personally, I take on one goal per day. Which means I achieve 30 goals in one month and 365 goals in one year.

This is how you build your house--by accomplishing one small goal at a time.

If you want to make the jump from being busy to being productive, start by taking a step back. Slow down and be more proactive, which ultimately allows you to be more productive.