Three ways to turn busy into productive

Jan 03, 2018

By Moira Dunne

In today’s hectic and distracted world, it can be hard to stay in control of your day and be productive. The constant stream of messages, alerts and requests often cause us to work reactively and this can be frustrating. Most people make good plans and set clear goals, but those plans can get side-lined as new requests and alerts arrive.

It can be useful to remind ourselves of what we can actually control. We can proactively manage:

  • What we work on;
  • How quickly we respond;
  • What we prioritise;
  • How often we check email;
  • Our energy levels and focus; and
  • Our mobile phone notifications.
So if you decide to be more proactive and take control, here are three ways to do it.

Tip 1 – know your priorities

To maximise your use of time, it is important to know your priorities. Be clear about what is important for your company, your role, your clients and your targets. What are you trying to achieve? What are your long-term goals? Do some thinking and planning. Then set weekly goals and identify the tasks that will achieve these goals. Now you have your day-to-day priorities. Focus on achieving these tasks and protect your time by minimising your distractions.

Remember, if you don’t set your own priorities, someone else probably will.

Tip 2 – understand how you work

The first step in controlling how you work is knowing how you work. Do you know what you end up working on each day? Do you know why? Are you clear about how you are prioritising your work?

You can gather this information by simply reflecting at the end of each day. Ask yourself:
  • Did I stick to my plan?
  • Did I end up working on unplanned things?
  • Was the unplanned work more important?
  • Did I make the correct decisions?
  • What and/or who distracted me?
Identify the time of day you are most productive and when you concentrate best. Then plan the important work for these times.

Tip 3 – control your distractions

Take steps to minimise your distractions now that you are aware of them. It may be phone calls, social media notifications, unimportant message alerts or other people’s requests.

We often allow ourselves to become distracted if it is a welcome change from a tough (priority) task we are working on. And a change of task can refresh and help you regain focus. The challenge is to control the time you spend on the unplanned task by using a timer to remind you to tune back into your original plan.

To help minimise digital distractions, you can do the following:
  • Analyse all the notifications you receive on your phone, tablet or computer;
  • Ask if you are giving them all the same priority;
  • Ask if you are letting a low priority Twitter interaction distract you as much as the alert for an important business email;
  • Turn off notifications from low priority apps or email accounts; and
  • Check email at a set frequency, as often as you need to stay in touch for your role or business. 

Be productive in 2018

These changes may require a different way of working. It may not be possible to stick to it every day but on a day that you have an important piece of work to complete and you need some deep-thinking time, take control and protect your time.
Moira Dunne is a business/management consultant and co-founder of Moira will deliver the Institute’s ‘Turning Busy into Productive’ CPD course on 17 April 2018 - keep an eye on the CPD section of the Institute's website for more information.