How do You KNOW When You’re Busy?

I’ve come up with a few questions that you can ask yourself to see where you stand:

Are you productive — or just busy?  Watch out for this one, because it’s an easy trap to fall into.  Everybody likes to look busy.  Some workers make a career out of it while actually accomplishing very little in the average day.  People zoom around the office, guzzling coffee and stomping back and forth to the copier; they scatter paper across every inch of their desks; and they furiously clack away at their keyboards while they talk on the phone.  Busy, busy, busy!

But having lots of plates spinning at once doesn’t necessarily mean anything was accomplished.  We all know what it’s like to have a really busy day, but still feel like we’ve accomplished very little and were unproductive all day.

Set your sights on realistic, attainable goals and work towards them.  You’ll still be redirected by everyday interruptions and the inevitable fires that must be put out, but a plan will help you get back on track.

Do you plan your day?  This goes beyond just keeping track of your meetings and jotting down deadlines.  Planning your time is about keeping track of your projects and long-term goals and managing your priorities.  If all you have is a daily to-do list and never look ahead, it is very easy to spend your day reacting to low-priority tasks without even realizing it.  Sure, you’ll probably go to each of your meetings and cross off a few items on your list, but this is no guarantee that you are maximizing your productivity, making sure your daily activities are contributing toward your long-term objectives.

Take a few minutes each day to invest in planning.  This means double-checking to make sure that every meeting you attend is a good use of your time (if you have control over this sort of thing) and that your to-do list not only tells you what you want to get done, but offers some level of priority for each item.  You accomplish things in order of priority and spend some time on tasks that aren’t due in the next few days.

In the heat of the moment, it is easy to decide to spend time on a low-priority task, just because it is easy, fun, or low-stress.  After all, if you complete an easy task, you’ll be able to scratch an item off of your list right away!  We all know what a good feeling that is, but resist the temptation.  If you do the most unattractive but highest value task on your list first, you’ll feel better about the entire day.

Do you have goals?  Are you moving toward them?  Generally our biggest goals, professionally and personally, are the things that we care most about in the world.  They represent our career ambitions.  Or our goals for our families.  Or our goals for ourselves.  If somebody asked you about them, you would probably agree that your big goals in life are your highest priorities.

Then why is it is so easy to neglect them?  Our next promotion, our relationships with our kids, our physical fitness–whatever it is that matters most–so often gets pushed to the back-burner in favor of things that aren’t nearly as important.  It is too easy for unimportant work to steal family time, for office frustrations to make you lose sight of career ambitions, or for exercise to be that one thing on the list that always gets pushed to the side.

If the last few paragraphs seem all-too-true to you, you might consider grabbing a piece of paper and writing down your goals for the next month, six months, and year.  Then post your goals where they can act as a constant reminder of your true priorities.  That might be your computer monitor at work or your bathroom mirror at home.  Just make sure that you make your goals clear and post them with pride.