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Are you Busy or Productive? 4 Ways to Know.

Jay has over seven years of experience as a professional writer. Over the years, he accumulated various productivity skills.

Photo by Noemí Jiménez on Unsplash

Photo by Noemí Jiménez on Unsplash

Trudging along that “9-to-5” might make you think that you’re getting the most out of your day. Seeing your daily To-Do list checked out gives you satisfying feelings that emanate from within. However, the quest for accomplishments seems to make you ask yourself, “where did all the time go?’”

Now, you begin to question if your deeds are making you busy or productive. But, how can you discern one from the other?

Photo by Christin Hume

Photo by Christin Hume

1. Frantic vs. Focused Work

Both busy and productive people tend to follow a particular set of ethics that keep them disciplined. Busy people know that they need to complete tasks on or before their deadlines, lest they reap the consequences.

Productive people also understand the value of completing tasks. But the difference is that productive individuals tend to know which tasks their attention needs focus.

In turn, busy people may rush tasks to beat deadlines, whereas productive people might opt to complete work using systematic approaches. In other words, being productive also means working smart.

Being productive means you’re always on the constant lookout for better ways to improve yourself to achieve the same outcome. For example, if Plan A doesn’t work, you can try Plan B. Moreover, if Plan B still needs work, you can opt for plans C through Z.

If you’re a productive person, you should focus on efficiency and effectiveness. Both terms are defined by Merriam-Webster as:

  • Efficiency: Effective operation as measured by a comparison of production with a cost.
  • Effectiveness: The ability to produce a decided, decisive, or desired effect.

Ergo, being efficient means you can take small steps to accomplish large tasks. Being effective, on the other hand, means you’re searching for the most optimal methods to do and complete tasks.

Combining efficiency with effectiveness allows productive people to maintain focus on their work while producing optimal results without wasting a significant amount of resources. Otherwise, you might only be trying to accomplish tasks for the sole purpose of completing them.

2. Short- vs. Long-Term Priorities

It’s safe to say that everyone has goals, regardless if they’re for the short- or long-term. Goals help you keep working and maintain motivation. But, ask yourself, are you prioritizing short- or long-term goals?

If you’re prioritizing short-term goals over long-term objectives, you might be a busy person instead of a productive one. So, what are short-term goals? Here are some examples:

  • Finish tasks at work for the day.
  • Buy a good meal on payday.
  • Move into a new apartment next year.
  • Lose one pound by the end of the week.

Before moving forward, here are some examples of long-term goals:

  • Become the manager of the company.
  • Eat a good meal every day.
  • Live in a mansion.
  • Possess 6-pack abs.

If you noticed, the long-term goals may not require a specific time frame to accomplish. Becoming a manager of a company might take five months, getting 6-pack abs might require a year of hard work at the gym, and purchasing a mansion might take two decades.

Seeing the bigger picture allows you to visualize your dream, and solidify your “why.” Ergo, “why” are you working hard? What are your goals in life? Do you picture yourself sitting in front of a desk for eight (or more) hours each day while taking someone’s orders?

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Creating long-term goals helps you maintain that motivation to push forward. However, be warned, as it’s also possible for your goals to blind you. In other words, you’re stuck daydreaming about what may happen instead of trying to manifest that dream into reality.

Analysis paralysis is the term for this situation, and it happens when individuals find it difficult to move toward a goal because of over-analyzing or overthinking about the problem or concern. This inaction may lead to several losses, particularly your time.

Remember, it’s possible to take back money, but it’s impossible to recover the time lost doing something or, in this case, doing nothing.

Now that you know how to avoid analysis paralysis, you can now break down those long-term goals into short-term goals. Does that mean you’re going to revert to becoming a busy person instead of a productive individual? That might not be the case.

However, the steps you’re going to mention reaching your lifelong dreams should be achievable while thinking about certain factors. For example, think about the steps you need to do to achieve 6-pack abs. Do you have to wake up at 4 AM to go to the gym before work? If you can’t afford a gym membership at the moment, what are other ways for you to exercise in your home or neighborhood without spending a lot of money?

In summary, don’t focus on your short-term goals. Instead, focus on long-term goals then break those big dreams into smaller steps. That way, you can maintain a clear vision of the things you need to achieve instead of daydreaming about that million-dollar mansion you desire.

3. Perfectionism vs. Purpose

Many busy people strive to attain perfectionism in several aspects of their daily lives. The concept of being perfect might manifest from folding clothes to completing a report. Although striving for perfection might not necessarily be a bad thing, it can derail you from becoming more productive.

For example, you’re trying to remove a tiny spot from a window that doesn’t seem to go away. However, you removed that pesky spot after three hours of trying out different cleaning solutions. You pat yourself on the back for the job well done. But, that celebration might be short-lived, since you now realize that you lost three hours trying to eliminate one tiny spot.

Therefore, perfectionism might breed counter-productiveness. You might think that you can get more household chores done if you left that spot alone, or you can rest earlier than usual.

Aim to fill your daily life with purpose instead of striving for flawlessness. You might find yourself becoming more productive when you fill your mind with purpose than trying to correct a minute detail that nobody, except you, would care for it.

So, how can you fill your days with purpose instead of perfectionism?

For instance, you may accept the fact that not everyone is going to like your work. As Mark Manson stated in his book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life:”

“The truth is that there’s no such thing as a personal problem. If you’ve got a problem, chances are millions of other people have had it in the past, have it now, and are going to have it in the future. Likely people you know too. That doesn’t minimize the problem or mean that it shouldn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean you aren’t legitimately a victim in some circumstances. It just means that you’re not special.”

Mark Manson might be blunt in his book, but he shows his readers that they're not the "special snowflake" they might think. It also means that you don't need to pursue getting showered by compliments at every tiny task you accomplish. Instead, focus on accomplishing said tasks in the best way that you can handle them.

But does that mean that perfectionism is a weakness in becoming productive? In some aspects, flawlessly accomplishing certain tasks may lead to more productive work. However, you need to separate the tasks that need scrutinizing over those that you can just finish and move on with the rest of the day.

Understanding which tasks need your utmost attention and a keen eye for detail may require you to put those activities into paper, or, at least, a checklist on your smartphone. Putting those activities into writing may help you gain more focus than before, allowing you to accomplish more tasks. In turn, you may find yourself becoming more efficient and productive for various activities.

4. Multi-Tasking vs. Focusing on a Single Task

Perhaps one common attribute to boast on resumes is the ability to multitask. Handling different types of work at any given moment seems to be a prized characteristic sought by many bosses for their employees.

Multi-tasking may also be the mark of a busy person. Your body and mind are going to be separated into doing multiple tasks at once, hence the name of the attribute. If you’re particularly good at multi-tasking, you should, in theory, finish several tasks in a day.

However, the brain might find it difficult to switch between two tasks on-the-fly, let alone switch between five tasks in a short period. A 1999 report from Renata Meuter, Ph.D., and Alan Allport, Ph.D., mentioned that if people had to state digits between two languages, the speed in which they state the numbers in their second languages become slower than in their first.

Furthermore, multi-tasking tends to require a significant amount of focus wherein distractions have no place to exist. For example, you’re working on two tasks for your office that you need to finish before the day’s end. But, the chime of a notification bell from your smartphone or an urgent phone call from mom might make it highly challenging to resume work once those other activities complete.

Oftentimes, multi-tasking may also lead to busywork, which means doing a lot without accomplishing anything. This scenario can take place in several scenarios ranging from school to work.

Does that mean that multi-tasking is always detrimental to one’s success?

Although it might seem like multi-tasking has more cons than pros, it does have its fair share of benefits. For instance, practicing to multitask may help you learn how to deal with certain distractions and interruptions. After all, life is full of these events, and forcing yourself to shy away from these distracting events might make it more challenging than average to deal with them if they happen.

Also, don’t forget that multi-tasking may also help with the progression of multiple tasks, regardless if said progress is minimal at best. It might even be a good idea in certain scenarios to handle several chores or projects at once if they lead to a single deadline.

However, and if time allows, you may want to consider focusing on one task at a time instead of multiple projects at once. There’s a sense of accomplishment you’ll feel with each item checked off from your checklist.

Moreover, each time you erase or scratch off an item from your To-Do list, it may help you remain motivated to move to the next task. On the other hand, trying to handle several tasks at once might be physically and mentally draining. Hence, you might not have the physical or mental energy to continue with other projects.

Final Words

So, are you a busy or productive person? Remember, being busy doesn’t mean you’re not productive, and being productive doesn’t mean you’re busy. You might want to find a balance between these two traits to help you achieve both short- and long-term goals. But you may need to focus on certain aspects to ensure that you're making the most out of your time.

© 2020 Jay Soriano

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