Written by: Phil Sealy – The Pro Forum Community of Practice

“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.” 
Thomas A. Edison

In the words of Thomas Edison, being busy is not the same as being productive.  Some people think that by being busy means you’re getting a lot done, but as experience has shown me in the past, being busy doesn’t mean you’re actually creating or achieving the results you are looking for.  For instance, I used to manage multi-million dollar ICT projects where I am forever in and out of meetings.  I had days where I had back-to-back meetings with no time to even eat lunch and by the time the end of the day comes, I realised how little I actually achieved that day.  Being busy simply means you’re focused on what you don’t need to be doing, when there are other things that has more priority or can be achieved in a different way.

So how do we break out of ‘being busy’ and get us back to producing results and being more productive with our time?

Start by asking yourself how often you actually achieve the results you expect while you’re busy, whether you are working, running a business, or just your everyday life.  If you have said ‘not often’ then you are like most people.  Being able to move away from being busy to actually being productive can give you a sense of accomplishment when you are able to see tangible results.  Being able to gain more time and do what you want to do and spend time with family, is something that we’d all love to have more of.  When you run a business, you find that there is so much to do but you can never find enough time in the day to do everything you set yourself out to do.  Fun and family become second to running a business and sometimes you feel like you world revolves around keeping your business going.

Be Productive in 3 Simple Steps

Choosing the right strategic partner for you means choosing the type of people you want to work with and that you can work with them effectively in a good working relationship.  People with a common attitude towards running a business or those with the same values as you are commonly a good indicator that the partnership may work well.

Before you consider who you should select as a partner, consider why you are wanting to form a partnership To break out of this vicious cycle, use the three simple rules I live by that have seen me through two profitable start-up businesses and my personal life:

Step 1 – Complete one task at a time

We live in a society that views multi-tasking as a skill, and people say with pride that they can multi-task as if it is something that only a select number of people are capable of doing.  I used to be one of those people.  However, when you think about it and the results you get from multi-tasking, the quality of what you try to achieve by starting multiple activities at the one time is not of the same as if you focus only a single task at any one time.  Your attention is dispersed across all ongoing activities and the results you get is segmented across these activities and you find you start activities but may not complete every one of them to the quality you expect if you were to focus all your energy on the one task.

By focusing on the one activity, it doesn’t mean you just work solely on that one activity for weeks or months until you finish it.  You can still have variety by starting more than one activity, however majority of your focus is on the most important activity without the others distracting you from completing it first. If that one activity is important to you and it adds value to your long-term goals or takes you closer to fulfilling a dream, then give it the attention that it deserves.

Step 2 – Write a To-Do list that MUST get done today

A lot of people, including myself, start out the wrong way when they sit down to write a list of all things that they want to do for the day.  As the day progresses, generally the list grows when activities that should’ve been done, the activities they want to do, and the activities they wish they could do gets added to that list.  By the end of it, the list is so long that it becomes overwhelming and the motivation for tackling it disappears.

The words “MUST get done today” is key to this recommendation.  When writing such a list that must be done today, the list should not contain more than 3 – 8 tasks, depending on the complexity of these task and depending on how much time you have to complete them.  The activities on the list, should not be tasks that you must done on a regular basis, such as mow the lawn or do the washing.  These are not the types of activities you want to set yourself out to achieve in your To-Do list because you have to do them irrespective of what goes on around you.

The types of activities that you want to include are what you want to work towards as a larger and more significant goal.  For instance, if you want to write a book, a daily activity can be “write 500 words on the book”.  Writing 500 words is easier to achieve than writing a book in the one day, with a goal at the end of month to complete the book.

Step 3 – Prioritise your Activities

Once you have written a To-Do list, prioritise your activities in order of importance and urgency, with the most important and urgent activity at the top of the list.

Stephen R. Covey’s Time Management matrix is a great guide to use to rate each activity against the importance and urgency to have the activity completed sooner than later.

When prioritising activities on your list, consider the following questions to help you work out how important they are to achieving your ultimate goal:

  1. Will this activity take me one step closer to my ultimate goal?
  2. Can someone else do this activity other than myself so I can focus on other activities? If you answer ‘Yes’, then assign the activity to that person.

If the activity will take you one step closer to your ultimate goal AND you are the only person who can do the activity, then it belongs on your list of things to do.  Basically, your focus should be in Quadrant 2 of the matrix where you are exploring new opportunities to better your business by working more proactively and in turn be more productive and not just busy.  Quadrant 1 activities are those you need to do and will keep you busy but not productive, and quadrants 3 and 4 are those you either want to either delegate or avoid doing as it provide no value to getting you closer to your ultimate goal.


NOTE: The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter, and specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. The content must not be relied upon as legal, technical, financial or other professional advice.