How to be more productive through being less busy

In cycling there is a long-standing belief that over the Winter, when the season’s finished, you need to get out on your bike for hours and hours and ride tons and tons of miles to build your base fitness for next year. More recently though, there have been studies that show that the improvements gained from this approach can be had from doing much shorter, higher-intensity rides.

This means that a rider could move from doing 12-15 hours a week, to 6-8 hours a week, and get virtually the same benefit. Where do I sign up?!

This got me thinking, and then reading about what this could mean in a business context. The research led me to zeroing in on the concept of ‘busyness’, and how this often-used ‘badge of honour’ is actually becoming the enemy of productivity.

Think about when you last spoke to colleagues or clients and asked them ‘how’s it going?’. I’m willing to bet that at least 80% of the time the word ‘busy’ was mentioned. And if you probe a little more, a long list of tasks are talked about, with tough deadlines and long hours. And if you’re not the same, well, people might think you’re not pulling your weight.

Funny thing is, Britain is not as productive as many other countries. We’re not even in the top 10.  My view is that we’ve become so task-focused that we never feel like we’re allowed to take a step back and really improve what we’re doing, making us happier and more engaged whilst also being much more productive in less time.

So, my top tips for becoming more productive are:

  •  If a colleague or client requests something, ask questions about it. If a client wants answers to some questions, you may find that you don’t need to put together a 30 chart deck of results, you may just need to write four lines in an email. Hey presto! A whole afternoon saved.
  • Listen deeply in conversations – resist the urge to think about your solutions, your similar experiences, jumping in too early and just listen until they finish. You will get a far better insight into exactly what they need, and save yourself a lot of time putting together ‘stuff’ that may not hit the mark.
  • Give yourself time to think about what you’re doing and how it links to your clients’ or your company’s goals. If you’re in charge of a team, give them time to think about the same.
  • Have a chat about issues or solutions, internally or with clients. Talking about it can help with your thinking, and often you will find a solution to a problem already exists, or the client may steer you in the direction of something that works for them, saving you time and energy.
  • If something isn’t working, take time to try something different. The very popular phrase ‘doing the same thing gets the same results’ is so very true.
  • One final thing; almost a word of caution! If doing the above gives you time back, think carefully about what you want to use that time to do, what’s important to you. Work/life balance? Ambition? Creativity? Hobbies? You’ll be in a fantastic position to choose.

Suddenly I’m actually looking forward to my Winter training 🙂