Are You Busy?

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by Jeanette McLean

Are you busy?

Being busy has become a marker of success and productivity, but are we really as busy as we think we are?  And, more importantly, does that busyness equate to productivity?

We overload ourselves and schedule out every hour of our day, cramming as much into digital diaries as possible.  We come in earlier and stay later, we even cut short our breaks and come in when we’re ill.  We respond to emails from our tablets whilst on holiday, and keep our work phones switched on during dinner.

The combination of a fragile job market, fears around job security, and a general culture-shift at work has led us to accept these as the costs of productivity.  But whether we’re powering through our to-do list or clearing some head-space to focus on a project, productivity means something very different to each of us.

Think about what you want to achieve:

Do more of the ‘right’ things instead of trying to do ‘everything’.  Before you try productivity apps and hacks, take a look at your own habits.  How do you work?  Consider what you need to achieve today, but also think about your environment and the way you organise yourself.  Where are you focusing your energy and attention?  Take an outsider’s look at your habits, and it might reveal some enlightening truths about your habits and way of working.

Take some time for yourself:

Speaking of habits, when was the last time you took yourself away from your desk for lunch?  Our obsession with busyness has spilled into our leisure time, and that means that our emotional and cognitive health takes a hit.  In fact, numerous studies have shown that you’re likely to be more productive if you take care of yourself, and that doesn’t necessarily mean mediation and rest.  How many times have you resolved to learn a new language?  Spend more time home-cooking?  Read more books?  And how often do those intentions and resolutions go out the window when you get home from a long day and slump on the sofa?  We’ve all experienced the ‘guilt’ of not achieving much in our time outside of work, and for some the price of this and the feeling of being ‘stuck’ can be quite dispiriting.  Being more mindful of the way we work doesn’t just improve our productivity, it allows us more time where we feel energised to pursue hobbies and develop skills.

Realise that you cannot do it all, all the time:

No matter how hard you work or how early you stared today, the likelihood that you’ll tick everything off the to-do list is quite small.  Prioritise, manage, delegate, and be realistic with your objectives.  Multitasking is a valuable skill, but it’s not always conducive to productivity.  Could you accomplish something of higher quality if you dedicated some time to just this task?

Finally, admit when you need a hand.  We’re all in this together, and that to-do list item that you’ve been avoiding all week isn’t going to get crossed off whilst you’re making yourself busy with 101 other tasks.  Take a step back, breathe, and let’s begin.