A number of studies have shown that being very busy doesn’t necessarily mean being more productive. Surprisingly, the most productive people are often more relaxed than average performers. It all comes down to how high achievers spend their time, or simply said, make the most of it.
By understanding how these top performers spend their hours you can learn ways to be more productive – and possibly less busy – in your daily work.
Practice makes perfect
A study conducted among a group of violin students in the 1990s revealed some surprising insights into different work styles and their consequences.
The students, divided into “Average” and “Elite” players, seemed to spend the same amount of time practicing. Yet, clearly the latter group was developing faster than the former. So what gives?
Giving the students a series of in-depth interviews, the researchers then gave them diaries which divided each 24-hour period into 50-minute chunks, and sent them home to keep a careful log of how they spent their time.
It soon became clear that the difference was in how they spent their practice time. The Elite group was spending almost three times as many hours on concentrated deliberate practice, whereas the average players spread their work throughout the day.
From here, two simple definitions followed.
“Hard work,” consisting of concentrated attention to a given task, may be more rigorous, but you are able to complete it within a clearly defined set of time. This style of work provides you with a clear measure of progress and adds to motivation, since you can complete a task fully within a single time frame.
“Hard to do work,” on the other hand, is work that you complete with difficulty, because of poor time management, interruptions or simple procrastination. Because you need to continually shift your focus back to the task, it causes a false sense of busyness and wastes precious time. It’s also harder to measure clear progress, and inevitably adds up to worse results.
Adapting working style to the business world
These two work models can easily be understood in the context of your own daily work. Ever spent a day running around, jumping from one project to the next, where you seem to make very little headway? Clearly, how you apply your efforts and how you spread your workload has an effect on your performance.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for creating a more concentrated work style to enable better results and reduce false busyness.
Don’t break your hard work up over the day. This makes for more stress and less productivity. With that in mind, and considering that harder tasks will take more effort, it makes sense to prioritise. Put your strongest efforts into these tasks first, as your energy will naturally wane as the day carries on.
Be wary of multi-tasking. It loses its benefits when you jump from one project to the next, distracted by merely being busy with projects instead of getting them done. For best results, work hard at something in a sustained manner to get the best results.
Define your time on social networks. With a lot to do, it stands to reason that wasting time won’t help you. Again, the benefits of a phenomenon like social media quickly turn to obstacles if it isn’t wisely used. As with any task, set aside some time for it during the day. While you’re doing it, do only that. But don’t let it keep cutting into your productive hours.
Nothing beats efficiency. Learning new skills can help you do more work faster. For example, learning the ins and outs of your word processing program can help you edit or create documents faster and more effectively.
Make lists. Nothing beats the simple pleasure and sense of progress of ticking off items on a to-do list that shows how you’re dealing with your day.
The world won’t come to an end if you can’t do everything today
Often, the secret to doing a lot is to avoid doing too much. In a competitive work arena we often take on any and all tasks, assuming it is expected of us.
But completing three or four tasks perfectly counts more than taking on a dozen and half-completing them.
Remember, you’re only human. You have capacity, to a point. Don’t take on something with a steep learning curve if you don’t have the available resources. Don’t try and complete everything at once, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Rather, plan, prioritise and then commit. Your results will show for it.
Bid farewell to busyness
In the end, productivity is good, but false busyness is your enemy. Fight it with concentrated effort by doing one task at a time, with full focus, and doing it well.
By working this way, you’ll be much more relaxed about leaving a task, knowing you’ve done it properly, and then moving on to the next one. In this fast-paced, digitalised world, an age old adage still rings true: slow and steady wins the race.