11 Signs You’re Productive, Not Just ‘Busy’

A jam-packed schedule and a never-ending to-do list are badges of honor in our global economy. And though we can equate active days with progress, Conor Neill, EO Spain-Barcelona member, serial entrepreneur, teacher and keynote speaker at EO’s 2014 Global Leadership Conference, distinguishes between a busy life and one of productivity and purpose:

In 2010, I spent a day with the world-renowned athelete, Kilian Jornet, who shared his perspective on the differences between his life in the mountains versus living in the city. Kilian spends most of his life in the mountains, scaling Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Mont Blanc, Cervino and Everest, and setting records for the fastest ascent down each one. He says he always knows his destination, but is often doubtful about the exact path – he adjusts his route as needed.

During the few times each year when he arrives in Barcelona, he sees the thousands of pedestrians walking confidently up and down streets, and they look sure of their steps… but they have no idea where they are going. This is only one of the differences between busy people and productive people; do you see yourself as productive, or are you only leading a busy life? Here are 11 of the most marked differences between the two. 

1. Busy people want to look like they have a mission; productive people have a mission for their lives.

Busy people hide their doubt about the destination of their lives by acting confident in their little steps. Productive people allow others to see the doubt in their little steps  because they are clear on the destination.

2. Busy people have many priorities; productive people have few priorities

Nobody is ever too busy; if they care, they will make time. Life is a question of priorities. If you have 3 priorities, you have priorities. If you have 25 priorities, you have a mess.

3. Busy people say yes quickly; productive people say yes slowly.

Warren Buffet’s definition of integrity is: “You say no to most things.” If you don’t say “no” to most things, you are dividing your life up into millions of little pieces spread out among other people’s priorities. Integrity is that your values are clear and that your time is going to serve those values.

4. Busy people focus on action; productive people focus on clarity before action.

To focus on the top 20% of activities, you must gain clarity about what those activities are for yourself. The greatest resources you will ever have to guide you are personal experience – keep a diary, and take five minutes every day to reflect on the past day: what worked, what didn’t and what inspires you.

5. Busy people keep all doors open; productive people close doors.

As a young person, it is good to open yourself to options. It’s wonderful to want to travel, learn languages, climb mountains and explore. However, there comes a point in life where one must let go of most options and focus.

 6. Busy people talk about how busy they are; productive people let their results do the talking.

Stephen King says: “A writer is a producer of words. Produce words: you are a writer. Don’t produce words: you are not a writer.” It is a clear distinction. I have grown to have less and less interest in what people tell me that they are going to do – I ask them what they have already done. Past performance is the only good indicator of future performance.

7. Busy people talk about how little time they have. Productive people make time for what is important.

Any time we spend on excuses is time not spent on creation. Productive people don’t use time as an excuse. An action either supports their highest values and mission, or it does not. If it does not, they don’t do it – even if they have a whole day off.

8. Busy people multitask; productive people focus.

Do you know about the Pomodoro technique? It is brutal but effective. First, identify a task to be done. Set a timer for 20 minutes and work on the task until the time sounds. If you give into distraction, you’ll reset the timer and begin again.

9. Busy people respond quickly to emails; productive people take their time.

Email is a handy list of priorities. The problem: they are other people’s priorities, not yours. There are three choices when you first review your email inbox: delete, do or defer. Whichever you choose, make sure you’re focused by your own priorities.

10. Busy people want others to be busy, too; productive people want others to be effective.

While busy managers tend to measure hours of activity, productive managers measure output. Productive managers love seeing others enjoy their work and create an environment in which others can excel.

11. Busy people talk about how they will change; productive people are making those changes.

Spend less time talking about what you will do and dedicate that time to creating the first step. What can you do now that requires the approval of nobody else? What can you do with the resources, knowledge and support that you have now? Do that. It is amazing how the universe rewards the person who stops talking and begins.


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Categories: Best Practices Coaching FINANCES Goal Setting Guest contributors Inspirational Productivity


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