7 clues that you’re busy instead of productive

There’s probably not an entrepreneur alive who hasn’t experienced it: the realization that you’ve been busy all day long, maybe even checked everything off your To Do list, but you can’t point to a single thing you did that you know moved you closer to your business goals. Ernest Hemingway is credited with a painfully accurate recommendation: “Never mistake motion for action.”  Too many entrepreneurs fail to critically assess what they’re doing and – even more important – why they’re doing it.  They’re in motion, but they’re not acting productively.  They do things, but not necessarily in a strategic or intentional manner.  If you charted their motion throughout the day, they’d appear to be in what biologists call Brownian motion, which Wikipedia defines the “random drifting of particles …” (See?  That biology degree did come in handy.)

Are you purposefully advancing on your critical business goals?  Or are you randomly drifting, moving for the sake of motion?  Here are 7 clues that you’re being busy at the expense of being productive.

  1. You’re unable to clearly identify how a particular activity is contributing to a specific business goal.
  2. You view every item on your To Do list as equally important.
  3. You handle energy-sucking tasks (e.g., email, Facebook posts, etc.) as they appear in front of you.
  4. You say “yes” to every new idea that comes along.  (This could be a new social media site, a professional development activity, a new potential income stream, or anything else.)
  5. You do a lot of assembling.  In other words, you tend to be more concerned with gathering information than using it to create business results.
  6. You do many things for the first time, every time.
  7. You lose track of time when you “just take a short break” to check out your personal Facebook profile, grab a quick game of FarmVille, or enjoy that YouTube video a friend sent you.

Any of these ring a bell?  If so, the bad news is that you’re one of many entrepreneurs living in the world of busy-ness disguised as productivity.  The goodnews, however, is that, having become aware of these counterproductive habits, you’re now in a position to exchange them for behaviors that are strategic tools for creating true business growth. Take advantage of the following tactics to get you on your way to creating and implementing purposeful, productive action plans.

  1. Keep your list of key business goals and strategies where you can see it daily.  Don’t have such a list?  Then the very first item on your new and improved To Do list is to create one.
  2. Assess every item before putting it on your To Do list.  Evaluate how a task relates to those key goals. Is it mission critical? Important? Nothing more than a nice idea?  Mission critical activities get priority over everything else, so be sure to schedule them into your day and stick with each such task until it’s completed. Once all the mission-critical, A-level tasks are done, only then move on to the still-important but B-level tasks. As for the nice ideas: Keep a list of them somewhere for possible future reference, but don’t get sucked into acting on any of them before all your A’s and B’s are done.
  3. Waylay distractions before they ever reach your consciousness.  Yes, a critical e-mail from a client may well be coming into your inbox. Yes, you may want to be able to respond to posts on your Facebook fan page within hours. However, you can’t afford to have your focus and energy scattered by addressing these tasks as they appear.  Instead, schedule time once an hour (maybe even once every two hours, if you’re really up for a challenge) to address emails and respond to business-related social media activities (thanking someone for a re-tweet, a Like, or a Follow, for instance).
  4. Acknowledge that, in order to enjoy true business success, you get to say “no” to some very attractive possibilities. This is one of my biggest personal challenges. There are just so many good ideas, opportunities, and tools out there, it’s tempting to try taking advantage of all of them.  However, if you attempt to do that, you’ll end up dabbling in everything and becoming expert at nothing. You get to be ruthless in assessing whether a particular option will move you toward your current important goals or not.  Hint: It might make this process less painful if you remember that “no” is not necessarily the same thing as “never;” it might simply mean “not now.”
  5. Continually ask yourself, “How will I use this information to achieve my goals?”  If you’re not sure of the answer, you get to let it go for now.
  6. Keep an eye out for any and all recurring activities which can be streamlined and systematized. Can you create a template for responding to common e-mails? Can you write out a process or checklist for more complex activities so that you don’t have to waste time remembering how you did them before? Creating systems is a fantastic way to do things for the first time once, and, every time after, use those systems as a time- and energy-saving short-cut to excellent results.
  7. Work when you’re working; play when you’re playing.  I speak from painful personal experience when I say that trying to mix the two throughout the day is a really excellent way to sabotage your success. Some of us are really not all that good at maintaining a tight focus throughout the work day, while others try so hard to stay on task that their brains threaten to explode.  To accommodate your need for concentrated effort and relaxation, take advantage of a kitchen timer or an online stopwatch.  Set it for an hour or two, during which time you ruthlessly ignore any temptations to take a break.  Once the timer goes off, set it again for 5 or 10 minutes and use that time to re-charge your batteries: stretch, wrestle with your dogs, sit outside when the weather is wonderful.  Experiment until you find a balance of activities that keeps you energized and productive.

It can be a very daunting task to challenge and evaluate how you spend your time each day; you may discover some things about your activity management that make you cringe.  On the other hand, applied knowledge is power. With your newfound awareness of how you may be sabotaging your productivity and what you can do about it, you’re ready to join an elite group of entrepreneurs who are focused, productive, and successful.

What do you plan to tackle first as you clear the decks for serious action? What have you already done that gets you off the hamster wheel and onto the Autobahn? Don’t be shy – share your success stories with the rest of us. Inquiring minds want to know!

(Are you thinking that a weekly infusion of success stories, tips, and resources would increase your productivity?  If so, just let me know that you want to check out my weekly ezine, Stepping Into Big. It’s a quick read that will, more often than not, gently goose you into greater productivity with success tools and strategies.)

BTW, thanks to heindraus for posting the hamster-on-her-wheel image on flickr.com.
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