Think back to the last work event you attended. Maybe it was an industry meetup, a networking event, or a community group. No matter where you went, chances are high that the most common answer to the question “How are you?” was some variation of “Busy! Good, but busy!”
That’s because our culture glorifies busyness. In a study on busyness and perceived status, participants in one experiment were asked to read a description of a 35-year-old man. In one group, participants read that the man “works long hours, and his calendar is always full,” and in the other, participants read that the man “does not work and has a leisurely lifestyle.”
You can probably tell where this ends up: The research found that the busy person was perceived as high-status. And this perpetuates our collective obsession with busyness.
Here’s the thing, though: Being busy means having a lot to do, but it says nothing about the value of that work. How do we combat the stress and distraction that our obsession with busyness contributes to and instead focus on productivity that fulfills us?
4 Steps to Transforming Busyness Into Productivity
The pressure to be busy is greatest in our professional lives. Whether you’re an individual contributor, a manager, or an entrepreneur like me, you know what it’s like to feel the heat — and that makes it harder to achieve the kind of success you want for yourself.
It’s time to eliminate that feeling of stress and busyness and replace it with focused productivity that brings you closer to your goals. Here are four steps to achieve that in your everyday life:
1. Identify what’s important to you.
When you feel like you’ve got too much to do, it’s hard to separate what’s actually important from what’s extra. Figure out which is which by reflecting on your goals for yourself. Make a list of the three things that are most important to you, and focus on tasks that contribute to those goals.
I co-founded my company, and as any entrepreneur can attest, there are roughly a million things to be done on any given day to build your business. To make it work, I had to focus my energy on what was actually important for me to do.
My co-founder John Hall and I knew that building our thought leadership in our industry and using content in our marketing would be a good way for us to get our name out there and grow as a company, so it became, and remains, a priority — even when things get busy.
2. Audit your habits.
To change behavior, you have to understand it, so take a look at how you spend your days. Track your time and comb your calendar for the tasks, projects, and meetings that consistently drain hours from your day without returning results or fulfillment.
My team uses time-tracking software called Toggl for this. After using it for about three months, I realized I wasn’t setting aside enough time for certain activities. I had the evidence in front of me that, although I was busy, I wasn’t being as intentional as I could be about how I spent my time — and that helped me correct course.
3. Eat the frog.
People stay trapped in the busyness loop by filling their days with many small tasks instead of making a dent in one or two bigger projects. Unfortunately, those bigger projects often have the greatest impact on your goals, and avoiding them only delays the inevitable.
“Eat That Frog” is a book about procrastination based on the saying that if you eat a frog first thing each day, then everything you do after that will be easier. People do lots of little things to avoid eating the frog — but if you start your workday by making progress on a big project, then the rest of your day will be more productive and enjoyable.
4. Push notifications … out of your life.
The more interruptions you face, the longer it takes to eat the frog. Eliminating distractions makes the frog-eating process as simple as possible, and the best place to start is with your push notifications. Slack, Twitter, Messenger, Google Chat, Gmail, and text notifications should stay muted when you’re working on projects that are important to achieving your goals.
I rely on two things to help me keep distractions to a minimum: block scheduling and reliable tools. I use block scheduling to allocate certain times of day for certain types of work, and I use a few tools to help me stay focused on my priorities.
To-do list apps like Wunderlist help me stay organized; email tools like Mixmax help with scheduling meetings; and my knowledge bank helps me keep content creation simple and my brand-building goals moving forward. Whatever your goals are, building a schedule and tool set around them will help you stay focused and minimize distractions.
Stress is a natural part of life, but constantly feeling stressed out and too busy is simply not necessary. Focus more time on the work that’s most meaningful to you and the goals you’ve set for yourself by using these steps to boost your productivity.