Are You Busy or Productive?

“How have you been?”  Without much thought, a common response for  me has been “BUSY“.  In a recent Twitter chat, I stumbled across the idea that being busy and being productive are not the same thing. It caused me to reflect on how I spend my time.

In the past, I spent countless hours on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Were these taking my time, making me feel “busy” or were they helping me be productive, getting closer to my goals?  How many hours did I spend collecting resources I still haven’t used? At the end of the day, what had I accomplished? Answer:  Not much!

This year I’ve responded to the question, “How have you been?” with comments like:

  • More focused
  • Happy
  • Balanced
  • Energized

So what’s changed? What’s causing me to be more productive?

How to be Productive and Not Just Busy

1. Set Long Range Goals

It’s easy to live day-to-day. What do I need to do today, this week, or even this month? However, when we set long range goals progress can be made to achieve them. If a teacher sees herself as a principal some day, what are the steps she can take to prepare herself? A productive teacher might begin by increasing committee work. She might then chair a committee. Another option might be to tackle a new project in the building like leading a book study for fellow teachers. Each of these activities brings her closer to accomplishing a long range goal.  A less productive teacher might spend her time thinking about being a principal, maybe even have conversations with people about how to become an administrator, but without action. This time spent dreaming about a long range goal doesn’t get her any closer to obtaining it.

2. Empower Others

Busy and productive people might look the same to others, there are some key differences.

So many times I’ve found myself thinking and even telling people I don’t need their help because it’s just easier if I do it myself. Soliciting help, delegating responsibilities not only helps you in the moment, it comes back over time. Building capacity in colleagues makes the district stronger and provides sound boards for future problem solving. The professional learning network begins with the people you work with every day. Investing time to show someone how to do a task or explain the complexity of the situation allows you to spread the work among many, lifting your load. The unintended benefit from this process is that it builds trust and relationships; these are key in any community. Productive people are able to identify tasks that can be shared so a project can be completed with more efficiency and teamwork.

3. Have a Plan

One of my dear friends is a list maker. He makes lists for everything. If he does something that wasn’t on his list, he adds it to the list just so he can cross it off. At the end of each day, he can see how productive he’s been based on how many things he’s accomplished from his list. Nothing gets missed, not even the undesirable tasks because he has a daily plan for what he expects to accomplish. We all know life happens and it’s not always possible to complete everything you planned to do in a day. However, since he has a plan, he can make intentional decisions based on priorities. For example, if a report is due to the State by Thursday and he doesn’t have it done by the end of the day on Wednesday, he has a decision to make. He has choices: 1. Call his wife to say he will be half hour later than planned. 2. Take the report home and do it before bed. 3. Arrive to school early and do it in the morning (hoping nothing else comes up to prevent him from getting it done as planned) or 4. Turn it in late. While option 4 is an unlikely choice for a productive principal, it might be the only choice for a busy principal who didn’t even remember the report was due. Not having a plan doesn’t allow you to make those decisions.

4. Take Time for Yourself

Easier said than done, I know. If you live by your calendar like I do, there’s no shame in using it to help you schedule some rejuvenation time. Date nights with my husband, shopping excursions with my daughter, writing time on my book, are all on my calendar. I avoid scheduling things on top of these precious times because I realize the benefit of taking time for myself. Neglecting family is a mistake I’ve made in my career. The time you deflect from family to work comes back at you 10 fold, only when it rebounds, it is often unplanned and negative. If you don’t spend quality time with your children, they can begin making poor choices, which suddenly requires your time and attention. Instead, be proactive and spend that time in positive ways.

Care for your health. Eat properly and get exercise. It’s ironic when educators tell students to eat a good breakfast, get plenty of rest, and play outside, then skip meals, plan until midnight, and never see the outside of their classroom or office. How am I going to get all this done? See tips 1-3 and let them work for you.

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