Why You Might Be Busy But Not Productive

If you ever feel like you’re working super hard but still not getting through everything, it might be because you’re busy but not productive. Thankfully there are a few small changes we can all make to how we work that will make a huge difference! I’d love to hear your ideas as well!

Why you might be busy but not productive | I Spy Plum Pie

No more task switching

While sometimes multi-tasking can have its benefits, when we are trying to knuckle down and get work done it really doesn’t lead to optimal working conditions. Switching back and forth between tasks means it takes us longer to get each task done, as it takes time to get back into the swing of what we were doing. Your energy goes to switching between the tasks rather than completing them, which is definitely not the most productive way to work. Pick a task (ideally after prioritising them!) and aim to for completeness before moving on.

Stop checking your emails

Constantly checking our emails is in many ways just task-switching, as it pulls our focus from what we were working on to see what else might be going on. Unless your work is reliant on quick responses to emails, try and have set times of the day you check your email and turn off all notifications outside those times.

Some people prefer to not look at their emails until an hour or so into the day, but personally I prefer to kick off my day with a clean-out of my inbox so I know what my new priorities might be. If we’re responding to emails as they come through we’re not actually necessarily completing the most important tasks, just those that grab our attention, ensuring we stay busy but not productive.

Don’t allow distractions

As well as turning off your email notifications, remove as many other distractions from your work space as possible. Pop your mobile on silent, turn off social media notifications, and if need be pop on some headphones to block out background chatter.

If you find yourself browsing websites with no real memory of how you got there, you can set up site-specific blockers on your computer that stop you being able to access those sites while it’s activated. It’s amazing how much time we can add back to our day if we stop mindlessly checking things like news sites across the day! Save them for your lunch break!

Schedule your work, not your deadlines

Another bad habit that can inhibit our productivity is scheduling in when our deadlines are, but not necessarily the time required to complete them. This means that we aren’t able to properly plan out our tasks for the week and we can find ourselves playing catchup or missing deadlines. Get in the habit of working out how long a task will take before you add it the deadline to your calendar, and block out the time to complete it then as well. The post I shared a few weeks ago on prioritising tasks at work¬†should help too!

Avoid ineffective meetings

How often do we find ourselves leaving a meeting thinking we’d just spent 2 hours talking about work, but had not moved any closer to actually completing it? Wherever possible try and ensure all the meetings you attend have a clear agenda and outcomes to be achieved before the meeting occurs. Don’t be afraid to ask what the intention of the meeting is before agreeing to attend, and if the organiser can’t provide an answer see if you can be sent a summary instead. At the end of meetings ensure a clear set of tasks is established that need to be completed prior to meeting again.

Another way to make meetings more effective is to hold them as standing, or walking meetings. This is particularly great when there are issues to be discussed but that don’t need presentations or extensive handouts, and they are almost always shorter than the equivalent ‘standard’ meeting would be. Plus, you might even get some fresh air and exercise!

Stop saying yes

This is a tricky one for lots of us, but it really comes down to not taking on too much. Having a clear list of your current tasks, the time it will take to complete them and their priority is a great starting point, as it allows you to articulate that to anyone who is asking you to take on more work. You can then discuss the additional work with them, where it fits with your other priorities and whether there are tasks that could be shared with someone else.

If the new task is deemed by your boss to be of highest priority then it also opens up the conversation about changing the deadlines on other tasks which you were already scheduled to complete. Most bosses will appreciate the discussion and help come up with a solution that works for the whole team.

Don’t aim for perfection

I’m not suggesting that you start handing over half-finished work, but for many tasks completion is more important that perfection. There will always be slightly better ways we could have worded something, presented info or the like, but if we worry about that we’ll never get anything done. Focus on getting everything right, and if time permits go back and try and improve things later. You’ll most likely find yourself working more productively as you’re not stressing so much over the end product, which in turn will give you more time to go back and make changes anyway!

I hope these tips to stop being busy but not productive were helpful!

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6 Comments on Why You Might Be Busy But Not Productive

  1. cait rammy
    May 3, 2017 at 10:34 am (7 years ago)

    In trying to complete creative work, or even just get started I get very distracted my social media. It’s so hard to just turn it off because I often need my laptop open to work. I like the ‘schedule your work, not your deadlines’ tip – I always give myself a deadline for personal projects without actually working out how long it will take me. I will start doing that! Thanks for this post x

  2. Bronnie - Maid In Australia
    May 6, 2017 at 7:00 pm (7 years ago)

    When I was working a short-term contract for a government organisation my supervisor said to check my emails only twice a day. But since I worked in media that was a huge mistake, and as a freelancer now, I still need to regularly check them as I never know if I’ll find a commission in there. But I agree, it’s a black hole, as is all social media. And I love social media. I’ve had to scale my involvement back as my inbox and messages from everywhere get oh so overwhelming. Good advice, thanks.

  3. Anne
    May 6, 2017 at 7:39 pm (7 years ago)

    I switch tasks all the time! Ooops

  4. Jan Wild
    May 8, 2017 at 2:24 pm (7 years ago)

    Yep, task switching and getting side tracked by email and social media is the biggest time swallower of all.


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