Is your busy-ness getting in the way of your work?

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Are you being undone by your own busy-ness? Here’s what some productivity experts have to say about the subject and what I have done to change my own working schedule as a result…

Do you have any idea how busy you are? I know, I know. You eat your lunch at your desk because you don’t have time to go to a park or a lunchroom. You drive to work because you don’t have the time to take public transit or to walk. You bake cupcakes for your daughter’s school’s holiday party at 11 pm because you don’t have time during the day.

But a recent blog post from productivity expert Chris Bailey had me thinking about this topic. As he says, most people think they accomplish far more work than they actually do. Here’s how he put it:

I recently stumbled across a study that compared how many hours people thought they worked every week with how many hours they actually worked. The difference, the study discovered, was staggering. People who thought they worked 60-64 hours a week actually worked an average of 44.2 hours (17.8 hours less); those who claimed to work 65-74 hours a week clocked an average of 52.8 hours (16.7 hours less); and those who claimed to work more than 75 hours actually worked an average of 54.9 hours (20+ hours less).

I read this piece shortly after I’d encountered a similarly themed topic from Cal Newport, at the Study Hacks blog, where he argued that we shouldn’t obsess on doing the most important thing first thing in the morning. Here’s Cal’s reasoning:

My main issue with the MIT [most important thing] strategy is that it implicitly concedes that most of your day is out of your control. You better get that MIT done right away, it tells you, before the wave of messages, pings, posts and drop-bys drag you into a reactive frenzy. 

The more effective answer, however, is to reject the premise that your day must unfold reactively. Someone who plans every minute of their day, and every day of their week, is going to accomplish an order of magnitude more high-value work than someone who identifies only a single daily objective.

While I have long advocated writing first thing in the morning — so that you’re sure to get the task done without procrastinating about it — I also agree with Cal. Recently, I’ve begun following a schedule that I plan to the 15-minute mark.

This new practice has taught me that busy-ness does NOT equal productivity. It also stops me from checking my email every 10 minutes and allows me to focus on my most important tasks.


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