Why Being Busy Doesn’t Always Equal Being Productive: Here’s What’s Missing from Your To-Do List

What do Bill Gates, Oprah, and Jeff Bezos have in common? They understand the value of work-life balance and significance of investing in their overall well-being.

These leaders know when to step away from their desk and participate in activities that boost their knowledge, creativity and energy. Instead of thinking about how much they can get done in a single day, they focus on the big picture.

In our digital, fast-paced culture, many of us are addicted to being busy. Constantly on-the-go, we stretch ourselves thin in order to be as productive as possible. But here’s the problem: being busy doesn’t always equal being productive.

So, how can you tell the difference? Being busy is fueled by perfectionism and a fear of underachievement. When you’re in “busy” mode, you’re frantic and stressed. Being productive on the other hand, is fueled by a sense of purpose. When you’re productive, you’re “in the zone” and energized.

The bottom line: being productive is about working smarter, not harder. To become more efficient (and happier) at work, incorporate these three tips into your daily routine:

  1. Take walking breaks

Ever wonder why your most brilliant ideas happen when you’re not working? Whether it’s going for a run or taking a shower, that’s usually when you’ll have those “aha” moments.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “it is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.” While he lived in France, he went for walking breaks in the mountains as part of his creative process. To compose philosophy, he let his mind wander and creative energy flow.

And science confirms it: walking makes you more creative.

2. During brainstorming sessions, focus on asking good questions, not having the “right” answers

Good questions stimulate curiosity and drive reflective conversation. By asking thought-provoking questions, you can connect ideas to find deeper insight.

Here are the key components of a great question:

  • Possibility-based language

As a team, what is the smallest change we could implement to make an impact? What can we learn from what has happened and what new possibilities can we see as a result?

  • Open ended

Will this question generate multiple responses? Does it leave room for new perspectives and different questions to be raised? What conversations, meanings and feelings do I imagine this question will evoke?

  • Authentic

Is this a genuine question? Do you really not know the answer? Are there any underlying assumptions? Think about the assumptions and beliefs you are currently holding. If your audience senses a hidden agenda or self-serving motive behind your question, it will prevent a genuine and productive dialogue.

  • Relevant

What is my desired outcome and is it relevant to the real issues of my team, company and industry? What will this question accomplish?

3. Try morning pages or a productivity journal

Studies show writing boosts your IQ and capacity for learning. When it comes to creative thoughts and ideas, writing by hand stimulates the brain differently than typing.

Morning pages are stream of consciousness writing done first thing in the morning. All you have to do is set aside 15 to 20 minutes and write down anything that crosses your mind. Think of this type of writing as a mental cleanse. It’s creating space for new thoughts and ideas to come in,

A productivity journal helps with time management and keeping track of daily tasks. It helps you focus on what’s important and monitor your progress. Over time, you’ll see what you’re spending too much time on, what need more attention and how to prioritize your projects.

Instead of falling into the trap of constant busyness, participate in activities that energize and inspire you. By developing these types of habits, you are setting yourself up for long-term success.

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