What’s the difference between productivity and time management? Time management is how you plan to use your time. Productivity is how much “work” you actually get done. Too often time management plans don’t lead to greater productivity.
A crucial question in “time management” conversations is, Why are you doing the things you are putting on your calendar? Often, when I talk with small business owners, I find that they’re working really hard at trying to get lots of things done, but they’ve skipped the question about why they want or need to do each thing. We find that the things that they are trying to fit in often don’t move them towards their real and meaningful goals. They’re working on managing their time around activities that are not productive.
A client recently said to me, “When I first started working with you, I thought, Do I need to spend so much time rearranging my calendar? Now I get it. I need to ask much bigger questions: What is productive for me and what activities support that productivity? It’s not just about how to simply fit everything in.”
For example, consider spending time doing a podcast or a social media post. Either of these activities could be things that you think you should do, but also could be a waste of time depending upon your specific goals and workplace.
Productive work is activity that connects the current work moment to your long-term goals. When I ask clients to reflect on what real-life productivity looks like, they consistently talk about working on things that are meaningful, important and that move them toward important professional or personal goals. “What” can be easy to focus on. But “What” needs to be grounded in that “Why” question. Why are you doing all those things that take up your time? Do they lead to your goals? Only asking “Why?” sorts that out.
One of the first conversations I have with business owners and busy professionals is “What are your goals?” That sets us up to talk about which activities are important to achieving their long-term goals. We schedule those activities first. Then we address all the others that crowd their schedule, ones that aren’t connected to their long-term goals.
The challenge that arises when you focus on productivity is that you need to make choices. We simply can’t do everything that comes across our physical and virtual desks. We have time for the most meaningful and important things, but we don't have enough time to do absolutely everything that shows up. You need to make choices about what's most meaningful and important for you, your life, your business, your goals. And making choices can be hard.
Have a triage method. To make choices that allow you to spend your time most productively, you need a triage method. Try using your long-term goals as a method to triage what you will say yes to and what you will say no to. As a task comes across your desk, ask yourself if it supports your long-term goals. If the answer is no, then you most likely need to avoid doing that activity because it is not productive for you.
Focus on activities that will have the biggest impact moving you toward your goals. Start with activities that ONLY you can do. If someone else is capable of doing the activity, can you delegate it? Even if you don't have a team, you can start to think about if you could delegate, would you still do each activity. This can help you think about how to make your work flow more effectively and efficiently. Thus, you’ll be more productive.
Keep yourself honest by asking “Why am I doing this?” and “Does this use my skills to their best advantage?”. By continually checking during your work day on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, you will start improving your productivity and managing your time will be easier.
This article was written in partnership with getWise - a technology platform that provides on-demand expert advice for small businesses and women to accelerate their business or career.