Did you hear the one about the guy who went onto Facebook to launch a marketing campaign…and found himself watching funny cat videos three hours later?
Guilty as charged!
These days, it is easy for anyone to be very busy, yet very not productive. Between the many ways to communicate (phone, text, email, IM) and work (online, offline, remotely) and all the potential available distractions (the Internet, mobile alerts, TV, life) it is a wonder we ever get anything done.
So yes, there is a fine line between being busy and being productive; the key is to understand the difference and aim for the latter. Here are a few quick tips to help you switch from keeping busy to staying productive:
1. Start the night with a to-do list: At the end of the day, think about the next day, and create a list of essential action items. And remember, having too long a to-do list is overwhelming and can also be disheartening. Instead, focus on what you really need to accomplish the next day. Doing this the night before has the effect of giving you some distance from the actual work and allows you to see what is truly important.
2. Make six lists: One of my go-to productivity pros is a lawyer friend who no longer practices and has instead ventured into sharing and selling marketing and productivity advice. His favorite productivity tip is to have not one to-do list, but six:
Ready: “This is an overview list of options to choose from, depending on how much time I have and my current context and priorities.”
To-do today: “First thing in the morning, or the night before, I go to my “Ready” list and choose 3 tasks for the day.”
Done: “As soon as I complete a task, I move it to this list. I used to delete done tasks; now I collect and review them to see my progress and learn when and how I work best.”
Backlog: “These are tasks and projects I plan to do but I’m not ready to start and probably won’t be for a week or two. When I am ready, I’ll move tasks from this list to the Ready list. I check this list weekly.”
Deferred: “I check this monthly. When I’m ready, I’ll move these to Backlog or Ready.”
Someday/maybe: “I don’t know if I will do these or not. They are more ideas than anything I’m committed to doing.”
3. Stop multitasking: In our hyper-busy society that values moving fast and always going, you’ve embraced multitasking. We all have. And that’s the problem. Have you ever considered breaking this golden rule?
Put down the iPhone and turn off the wireless. You will get a lot done.
More broadly, staying focused on a single task until it’s completed is one of the best things you can do for your productivity levels. Sure, multitasking will keep you busy all day, but it will not aid you in doing a quality job on a single task.
This is the essential difference between being busy and being productive.
4. Plan your long-term goals: Long-term goal setting is a major part of ensuring your current and future productivity. By actively focusing on what it is that you want – what you really want – you will be able to make more calculated and deliberate decisions as to how you use your time.
A great way to start focusing more on your long-term goals is to write them down. The truth is, a thought is just a thought, after all. The secret is to write down what you want your long-term results to be and work backwards. Reverse engineer a process for getting from here to there.
And then add that to your lists above.
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About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success.© Steven D. Strauss.
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