How to Turn Busyness into Productivity

SGEi • September 28, 2020

If you’re a leader, you likely have lists upon lists of to-dos and seldom have the time to complete everything you want or need to do in the time you’ve been given. While this isn’t an uncommon problem, few leaders understand how to make the best use of their time. It all starts with understanding the difference between busyness and productivity and delineating the tasks that are urgent versus priorities.

Busyness vs. Productivity
Busyness is:
• Frantic
• Aims for perfection
• Focuses on being good at everything

Productivity is:
• Focused
• Driven by purpose
• Focuses on being great at a few important things

Do not confuse being busy with being productive. Anyone can imply that they are busy. However, when you look at what you are busy about, you may find, like most people, you spend the majority of your time on meaningless and unimportant tasks.

Categorizing Your Tasks
The first step in making the best use of your time is to categorize your tasks. We recommend using the following four categories: emergencies, leadership, desk work, and unproductive tasks.

1. Emergencies
Tasks in the emergency category are all about managing the problems that arise every day. You cannot avoid spending time on these tasks. If you ignore them, you and the organization will be in big trouble. This category is where you bring your experience and skills to bear in responding to the many needs and challenges of the organization. As a result, many people are very comfortable spending time in this category and remain extremely busy. You must question whether the time spent in this area is improving the organization or you.

2. Leadership
This category is where you really add value to the organization and your brand. Tasks include relationship-building, coaching, and creating a great work environment. By working on these tasks, you will ensure the business is evolving, forward-thinking, and prepared for any challenges as they present themselves. Ignoring tasks in this category will eventually result in additional tasks in the emergency category.

3. Desk work
Tasks in this category include paperwork, meetings, and administrative requirements of the job that other people make urgent. The “noise” of urgency creates the illusion of importance, but the actual activities, if indeed they are important at all, are often only or much more important to someone else! Organizations can create so much administration that a manager has no time for anything else. You must challenge the necessity of all the meetings and paperwork you deal with on a daily basis. Leaders often spend too much time in this category, meeting other people’s priorities and expectations.

4. Unproductive tasks
We really shouldn’t be here at all, but we get so battle-scarred from being tossed around in the first and third categories that we often escape here for what we perceive to be a timeout. We engage in mindless activities, talking to friends, or non-work-related activities to take a break. It may have a short-term “feel good” effect, but, in the long-term, it adds to our time management pressures. As social beings, this category plays a role in building or maintaining social relationships, so we will always spend time in this space.

How Most Leaders Spend Their Time

Research reveals that most leaders allocate their time as follows:
• 30% of time spent on emergencies
• 20% of time spent on leadership
• 40% of time spent on desk work
• 10% of time spent on unproductive tasks

How Productive Leaders Spend Their Time

Here’s how leaders should spend their time:
• 25% of time spent on emergencies
• 45% of time spent on leadership
• 25% of time spent on desk work
• 5% of time spent on unproductive tasks

If you compare how productive leaders spend their time versus where most leaders spend their time, you’ll find most leaders have an opportunity to reduce the amount of time spent on emergencies and desk work.

The most successful leaders are very careful about how they use their time and even become a little selfish when using it. They avoid using valuable energy on things that provide a minimal reward for themselves or those around them. They’re also very selective about what meetings they attend and what paperwork gets their attention. They will also spend the majority of their time on tasks in the leadership category.

Making the Best Use of Your Time

With an understanding of all the ways you spend our time, the next step toward becoming more productive is to reallocate how much time you spend in each category. For example, minimizing tasks in the emergencies and desk work categories will free up time for you to spend on important leadership activities.

Four Steps to Become More Productive:
1. Make a list of all the emergencies that tend to creep in and take up your time and brainstorm ideas for eliminating or reducing the need for you to tend to those issues.
2. Make a list of all the tasks and to-dos in your desk work category that only you can do as the leader.
3. Make a list of all the tasks and to-dos in your desk work category that could be completed by someone other than you.
4. Apply the four Ds test: Review your remaining tasks and to-dos and ask yourself which tasks you need to do, which tasks can be delayed, which tasks can be dumped, and which tasks you can delegate to another person.

“No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.”
Andrew Carnegie, industrialist

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