I know how it feels.
That’s how things felt for me, not too long ago. Home, family, work, and the Paperless Movement keep me going from dawn until dusk.
Things at my day job were particularly busy.
Some of my responsibilities as a team-lead are: troubleshoot, delegate, answer questions, problem solve, answer emails, answer phone calls, and attend meetings.
All of this busy work comes in a never-ending stream that someone has to attend to. But while I’m busy answering questions and putting out fires, my own task-deadlines continue to draw near. It can be exhausting.
This is the scenario that inspired me to tackle unproductive busy work by creating a task-tool for my team at work to manage our projects and workflow.
Did it help? It did.
And it got me thinking.
All the time I was running around not getting my important tasks done, I was legitimately busy. Sometimes I felt like I was running my head off. But I still wasn’t completing my most important tasks without a lot of extra time and headache.
So if being “busy” all day wasn’t an indicator of getting things done, what was?
I realized I was mixing up the idea of being busy with being productive.
First, I needed to define the difference between being busy and being productive. I knew that being productive feels good, and being busy doesn’t.
Being busy is about working hard on many tasks that keep you occupied all day long. When you’re busy, there’s no limit to the number of things you can add to your to-do list.
Being productive is also about working hard on tasks. But to be productive, you have to be focused, and purposeful. When you’re productive, you focus on one thing at a time.
To be productive you must find efficient ways to complete what’s important, and get rid of the things that keep you running…but get you nowhere.
The task completion app I created at work made such a difference in taking my team from busy to productive, I began looking for other strategies and tools that could turn the unfocused busy work into focused productivity.
Along that journey, I found actions, mindsets, apps, and a book that transformed my days from crazy to focused. And now, I want to share them with you.
Here are 11 things you can try that can have a big impact when making the move from being busy to being productive.
1- Go Paperless
I guess it’s no surprise that I would start by going paperless. There is nothing that can contribute to busy work quite as much as paper. Trying to share files, or locate a note you wrote on some random piece of paper when you were in a hurry, can have you running around for no good reason.
All the sorting, filing, and shuffling wastes time that a paperless lifestyle can solve. A paperless home and office will have all of your records, photos, calendars, etc., neatly organized and accessible from any device.
2- Focus on one project at a time
The essence of being busy is to be occupied with so many tasks that you can’t focus on one thing long enough to get it done. But to accomplish important things, we must have laser-like focus. Focusing on one task will help you get it done faster and more thoroughly than if you continually task switch.
Don’t be tempted to fall into the multitasking trap. As I’ve shown in a previous blog post, multitasking is a myth. Trying to squeeze in one more thing won’t make you more productive. Research shows it will actually make you less productive.
3- Lose the idea that busy = important
For many people being busy feels noble. If you’re busy, you must be important, right? Otherwise, why would so many people run to you when they need help? This type of thinking will keep you stuck in the busy trap.
To turn this mindset around, think of it this way:
If people don’t respect your time they will dump their tasks and responsibilities onto you. When people do respect you and your time, they won’t burden you with the things they can do themselves.
4- Become the master of your schedule
To move from busy to productive, creating a schedule is a must. You can’t see what’s on your list, and order it by importance, if you don’t organize it onto a calendar and into a task scheduling app.
Using a great scheduling system that incorporates a paperless journal, calendar, and task tool can give you the edge you need to keep your most important tasks at the top of your list.
When you set an appointment or a time to complete a task, honor those times. Let your colleagues know that these time slots are non-negotiable.
5- Use organization apps
You didn’t think I’d create a list on productivity without including apps, did you? The right app, or combination of apps, can take your day from fragmented to organized. (Check out my app reviews on my blog and Youtube channel to find the apps that are the best fit for your home and office.)
You can use apps for scheduling, collaborating, communicating, and monitoring your to-do list. When you choose the right apps to fit your unique needs, you will have a customized system that is tailored to your job, projects, goals, and life.
6- Take advantage of app integration
App integration is bringing the data (and/or function) of one app to another app so they can both work together. This gives you the ability to use your favorite apps without having to re-enter the same data into each app separately.
When your apps communicate with each other, you won’t have to play the part of the data entry middle-man. If you have a favorite app that doesn’t have integration features, you can use a tool like Zapier to make the app integration friendly.
7- Learn to say no
Even if you’re a respected master of your schedule, busy work will still try to engulf you. Phones will ring and people will still come to you with “favors” to ask. This is not to say you shouldn’t be kind and help others. You should. But you must decide where to draw the line.
Decide what your “real” priorities are, and schedule your life around them.
This can be anything from the most important items on your to-do list, to a special date with your spouse. Only you know what your top priorities are. Once you’ve scheduled these priorities, don’t let less important busy work get in the way.
8- Use the inbox zero method to stay on top of emails
Let’s face it—email is one of the biggest time sinks a business person has. The inbox is a place where everything from important business messages to unwanted spam lands. The problem comes, not only from attending to the important things in your inbox but also from having to sort through all the junk. If you get a large volume of emails in a day, this task can easily take hours of your time.
An efficient daily system for keeping your inbox clear will deeply affect how productive you can be in a day. The system I use not only keeps my inbox empty, but it also integrates with my time management software so that work items and tasks from the email won’t get lost in the shuffle.
9- Make your meetings stand-up meetings
I don’t know a person who doesn’t feel like a lot of time gets wasted during meetings. It’s true that we need time to coordinate with our team and make plans for the upcoming work week or next project. But a lot of meeting time is spent visiting, or debating issues with no resolution.
A focused meeting is a productive meeting. When everyone knows that time is limited, the most important things get resolved first. Hence, the stand-up meeting.
A stand-up meeting is a meeting where everyone stands, instead of sits. These meetings are usually scheduled for a shorter duration because no one really wants to stand for more than 30 minutes in a meeting. There is no dozing or beating around the bush because, well—you’re standing!
10- Read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen
Digital resources weren’t the only things that helped me organize my life. The book “Getting Things Done” was a game-changer for me. As great as digital solutions are, I found there were still areas outside of an app’s domain that I could be more organized in.
I found that combining digital organization tools and note-taking apps with a version of the system laid out by David Allen in the book “Getting Things Done” have given me the best results to date.
11- Schedule friends and family time the way you would schedule an appointment
Let’s be real about this: Time does not stop.
The time you could’ve spent with loved ones will go by just as fast as your crazy workday does.
Schedule important events, and even casual events in your calendar, and then don’t let anything get in the way of those times.
After all, isn’t this what you’re working so hard for?
Take some time to sit down and see where these methods could be applied in your own life. Every situation is unique. While we can all learn from each other, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to a problem as complex as this.
Using some, or all, of these methods, will help you move from being merely busy to being productive in your own life.
After you’ve used a few of these methods, let us know how it’s working inside the Paperless Movement Facebook group.