Are you confusing Activity with Productivity?

It’s an easy trap to fall into.  Just look at your calendar – you haven’t been home before 7:00 all week and you haven’t been to bed before midnight for two weeks.

“It a tale…full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.”  Shakespeare – Macbeth

Is all that activity moving you forward?  Probably a better question…do you know where ‘forward’ is?

In my former corporate life, I knew far too many people that would routinely work through lunch, walk with a real sense of urgency and irritation when they did leave their desk and generally give off a “I’m really busy” vibe. 

Now some of them might have been using George Costanza’s 10 Commandments for working hard.  to look good to their boss (I especially like these:)

1 – Never walk without a document in your hands. People with documents in their hands look like hardworking employees heading for important meetings. People with nothing in their hands look like they’re heading for the cafeteria. People with a newspaper in their hand look like they’re heading for the toilet. Above all, make sure you carry loads of stuff home with you at night, thus generating the false impression that you work longer hours than you do.

4 – Use voice mail. Never answer your phone if you have voice mail. People don’t call you just because they want to give you something for nothing — they call because they want you to do work for them. That’s no way to live. Screen all your calls through voice mail. If somebody leaves a voice-mail message for you and it sounds like impending work, respond during lunch hour when you know they’re not there — it looks like you’re hardworking and conscientious even though you’re being a devious weasel.

5 – Look impatient & annoyed. One should also always try to look impatient and annoyed to give your bosses the impression that you are always busy.

6 – Leave the office late. Always leave the office late, especially when the boss is still around. You could read magazines and storybooks that you always wanted to read but have no time until late before leaving. Make sure you walk past the boss’ room on your way out. Send important e-mail at unearthly hours (e.g. 9:35 p.m., 7:05 a.m., etc.) and during public holidays.

7 – Use sighing for effect. Sigh loudly when there are many people around, giving the impression that you are under extreme pressure.

But I’m sure a lot of them genuinely believed they were being incredibly productive.  The problem was they weren’t producing any valuable outcomes.

Sound and fury; signifying nothing.  That Shakespeare guy had a way with words…

First of all, you need to have a clear direction.  Ideally you have a longer term set of goals that you’re trying to achieve and you have identified shorter term activities and accomplishments that will move you towards your goals.

Without those goals and priorities, you will never truly be productive.  How could you be?  I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage “failing to plan is planning to fail”.  Activity without a clear direction is just busy work.

Secondly, review and prioritize your activities based on your most important goals and activities.  Most of your time should be spent on Quadrant II activities.

(From the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey).  Quadrant II activities are Important but Not Urgent.  Because you’ve clearly identified your goals, you can prioritize what’s important and what’s not (hint not everything can be important).  If you’re stuck, pick the top 3 things at any given time and just focus on those.

Finally, you must track your progress against your goals and periodically assess whether those goals or approaches make sense.  If you’re not making the progress you expect towards your longer term goal, then perhaps you haven’t identified the right activities to get you there.

Here’s more of a real world example: 

One of my longer term goals is to get more clients (I’m more specific than that, but for the purposes of this example it doesn’t matter). 

The primary way for me to find new clients at this time is through personal 1 on 1 meetings with qualified people.  I can’t control the actual client decision, but I can control how many people I actually get in front of in a consultation situation. 

My experience (and feedback from others) is that a certain percentage of people that I meet with will lead me to a client situation (either directly or indirectly).  I’m still working on the actual percentage, but the conclusion remains the same, I need to meet with a lot of people 1 on 1 in order to reach my goals of getting new clients.

So every week I’m tracking my personal progress of 1 on 1 meetings with ‘qualified’ people that may be candidates for becoming a client or they work with or know people that may need my services.  In case your curious, my goal is at least 5 1 on 1 meetings a week on top of other networking activities.  It’s challenging to get them set up, but so far I’m doing fairly well.

As I become more effective at identifying how I can help people and identifying the best candidates for me to help, my success ratio will go up.  It’s not exactly a numbers game, but it does require a lot of persistence.  I’m also identifying other activities that will generate potential clients and at some point I will mix those activities in as well.

What activities are you doing that aren’t leading towards your goals?  Could you, should you stop doing them now?  Do you track your results on a regular basis?

I’m interested in your thoughts and would love to hear any stories you have on being busy versus being productive.

Shawn Kinkade

5 thoughts on “Are you confusing Activity with Productivity?”

  1. Jerry Smith says:

    Hi Shawn
    I like you tips to appear productive – oh, wait, that doesn’t work so well when you are self-employed!

    We used to have a lot of “busy fools” when I worked in the UK. There was a culture of working hard, but the measure of that was hours spent, not productivity. It is an easy trap to fall into.

  2. Alex Rybacka says:

    Dear Shawn,
    I’m happy to inform you that this post is featured in the recent part of TimeCamp’s weekly Productivity Articles roundup! Find “Have a Productive Week with Best Productivity Articles This Week! 17/9/17” on
    Thank you for sharing these excellent productivity and time management tips!
    Alex Rybacka, SM Manager at TimeCamp

  3. S. Kinkade says:

    Alex – thanks for picking up my article, I’m glad you all found it to be helpful!

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