Don’t Be Busy, Be Productive!

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By Jaime Willis

Comic by Randall Munroe of xkcd.com.  I’ll admit that I’m writing this post today to remind me to honor my time better.
You’ve all probably heard the cliche – if you want the work to get done, ask a busy person to do it.  Why is that coined term so true?  Because busy people are achievers.  They know how to get from Point A to Points B, C, D, and E.  Think about it for a second – when you want to get somewhere fast in the city, where do you look first? To taxis — they are already out on the roads and they know exactly how to get to where you are going without a lot of muss and fuss.  Achievers are the same way.
The pitfall here is that achievers, unlike taxis, need to stay focused on what is most important to them and not pick up extra “fares” unless you have the time and energy to do so.  Saying ‘no’ is challenging, especially when all the activities you are being asked to do are Core Values.  So how can you be more productive and less “busy”?  Use the following tips:
Prioritize Sleep Over Everything But Life and Death Emergencies.
Often, one of the very first things we give up when we get busy is the extra hour or two of sleep we’d like to get each day.  In fact, most Americans are getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night.  Tony Schwartz puts the human need for sleep in stark perspective in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post.  

“Say you decide to go on a fast, and so you effectively starve yourself for a week.  At the end of seven days, how would you be feeling? You’d probably be hungry, perhaps a little weak, and almost certainly somewhat thinner.  But basically you’d be fine.

Now let’s say you deprive yourself of sleep for a week.  Not so good.  After several days, you’d be almost completely unable to function.  That’s why Amnesty International lists sleep deprivation as a form of torture.”

In the article, Schwartz also points out that high achievers get MORE sleep than the average person, not less.  So, if you truly want to get stuff done, start with a good night’s rest.

 Review Your Core Values Every Single Day.
Jaime’s Core Values
Why is this so important to your productivity?  Because if you are really focused on achieving what is important to you, it makes turning down tasks a lot easier.  Cameron Herald, a hyper-successful serial entrepreneur and the founder of BackPocket COO says:

Absent values and vision, you cannot distinguish between opportunity and distraction.

Why is Apple so successful?  Steve Jobs will tell you it is not just their religious focus on making products that wow the end consumer.  It is that they are willing to say no to projects that don’t fit their core competencies.

I was recently asked to participate in a really cool volunteer project, but something told me to wait a day or two before I agreed to do it.  A day later, I got a phone call from a family member asking me to fly back to my home state for the weekend.  Using my own values as my guide, Friends and Family are first.  I bought my plane ticket and told the volunteer coordinator I would be happy to do to the project next time.

 Set Boundaries and Expectations.
We’ve all done it – we thought we were signing on for one thing and by the time the event has rolled around, we’ve been pulled into twelve different aspects of the project and are committing time, energy, and funds that we didn’t have to spare.
I will tell you that I am *notorious* for this.  I really want to help people out, it’s a core value of mine, and, as a result, I’ll often end up way-way-way overextending myself.  Matt, on the other hand, is really good about setting the boundaries and expectations of any situation up front, so everyone is clear on what he is and is not willing and able to give.  
What is frustrating to everyone is when you wait until after people are relying on you to set the expectation.  Be upfront with people on the outset and 90% of your problems with committing too much to a project will go away – seriously!  
This past week, I was offered a project I was really interested in doing, but I already had so much on my plate, I was unsure if I would be able to handle another thing.  I told the person candidly my concerns — I really wanted to help, but here was the time frame I was available and here is how I could be engaged while the project was going on.  By setting my boundaries up front, I didn’t have to say yes or no to the project myself.  I was able to let the other person decide if my availability matched their need.  Because they were able to agree to my timeframe, I was able to commit to the project knowing my own goals and priorities wouldn’t be adversely impacted.
 Build in Time for Mental Renewal.
One of my own habits is to make sure that I have one day a week that I am not getting up by an alarm.  I know how important sleep is, so I try to get as much of it as I can during the week.  Regardless, by the end of the week, I am *mentally* spent.  It is so nice to take the extra time to loll about in bed and watch a television show on my iPad, read a book, or just snuggle with the cats.  
My dad has a poem hanging in his house that always reminds me to take time out for my own mental and spiritual health. No matter how busy your day is, you are going to be much more productive if you start your day mentally refreshed and centered.  Taking time to pray, meditate, do yoga or other exercise, or even deep breathing are all great ways to start your day.
    I hope you have a wonderful and productive day!

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