It's Time to Stop Being So Busy—and Be Productive
Everyone I know is incredibly busy. My old boss used to complain about being “overscheduled” and “too busy” several times a week for the entire two years that I worked for her. Earlier this month, I tried to make plans with a good friend and she said, “I’m busy until mid-November.” My parents are both retired, but when I talk to my mom on the phone, she's talking about how they are just “so busy.” Chances are that you’re probably busy, too. I get it: Between work, friends, family, social engagements, and that hot new restaurant opening up in your neighborhood, it’s hard not to be busy. Up until recently, I was super busy, too. But one day, I realized I was too busy to get the things I wanted (and sometimes needed) to do done. Being busy was ruining my ability to be truly productive! According to scientific research, I’m not alone—the human brain is wired to crave busyness. If that is the case, how can we stop being so busy and start being more productive? It takes some effort, but it can be done. Here’s how.
According to Harvard Business Review, “people have an aversion to idleness,” and “many of the things we choose to do are merely justifications to keep ourselves busy.” It’s important to remind yourself that it’s perfectly okay to not be active all the time. Don’t do something simply to be busy; make a point to do things—jobs, tasks, make calls, watch videos, etc.—that have a concrete purpose and will give you results.
In The Remedy for Unproductive Busyness, the authors suggest that we be more like soccer goalies. When a professional goalie has to defend a penalty kick, he is most likely to block it if he doesn’t move at all. If the goalie dives to the right or left, he has less than a 15% chance of stopping the ball, but if he stays in the center long enough to see which direction the ball is kicked, he has a 33% chance of stopping it. “Nonetheless, goalies stay in the center only 6.3% of the time. Why? Because it looks and feels better to have missed the ball by diving (an action) in the wrong direction than to have the ignominy of watching the ball go sailing by and never to have moved.” A desire to act can lead one to develop a solution before fully understanding the problem. Therefore, instead of jumping up to do something, take a deep breath, hang back, observe, and explore the situation before acting.
It may be surprising, but taking the time to plan or reflect back on your day is incredibly beneficial to productivity. Having a quiet moment with yourself to look back on your daily performance provides intel on your progress, gives you confidence to attack goals, and makes you more aware of who you are. Although it may not seem like you are doing anything, making time for yourself to be quiet and focus will make you more productive.
One of the initial steps to being less busy is saying no to activities, events, and projects that you realistically don’t have time to do (or are not interested in doing). Don’t let yourself be pressured into doing something you don’t want to do! Remember, the world won’t end if you decline to go to that baby shower or let your boss know that you don’t want to manage the company. Stop feeling guilty. If you don’t have the time or resources to complete a project, say no. Although some people are all about being a yes person, to experience new things, you don’t always have to say yes.
There is nothing worse than filling out mundane but necessary paperwork. That’s why when there are responsibilities you don’t want to deal with (filling in an invoice, calculating taxes, booking travel arrangements), instead of pretending to be busy, give yourself an incentive. According to Dr. Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University, “something you like to do becomes a reinforcer for something you don’t like to do.” Concentrate hard on doing what needs to get done, and after you’ve accomplished it, give yourself a short break or reward. Eat that small piece of dark chocolate. Browse that shopping website’s exclusive sale. Call your best friend who recently moved and discuss the latest episode of Scream Queens. Focus on completing a productivity goal, and once you’ve done it, reward the responsibility.
In many cases, being busy is a status symbol. Super-important people are obviously very busy. But it's crucial to remind yourself that being busy does not make you more important. When you are busy, ask yourself: "Have I actually done something that produced tangible results?" Did you sell something? Did you publish a story that will get you paid? Be the right kind of busy and you will naturally become more important.
Not actually enjoying your downtime can greatly hinder productivity. Being overly active and trying to multitask—like reading a magazine while catching up on Homeland—is not a way of truly embracing your leisure time. Leisure time means relaxing—not reading emails or searching the Internet for potential clients. For your downtime to be effective, you have to enjoy and embrace it.
Pick up a few books on this subject below.