Will the new year be busy – or productive?

Karl Palachuk

One of the great myths we fall into is equating busy-ness with productivity. We’re all busy. All the time. But that certainly doesn’t mean we’re productive all the time.

I remember when I first started my first business – back in 1995 – I spent my days getting business cards printed, ordering envelopes, setting up my office, creating a filing system, and so forth. I felt very productive. I had the desk well organized. My bookshelves were filled with technical manuals and books on business (including books on productivity). My printer was close enough but didn’t crowd my work space. Everything was just right.

. . . and I had no clients, no revenue, no sales funnel, and no prospects.

Being-ProductiveWe all know we need to do productive work, so eventually we get the clients, make the sales, and generate the marketing that will bring in more money down the road. But that doesn’t mean we stop confusing busy with productive.

I was talking to an MSP recently who has been preparing for a big marketing boost. He’s going to be doing a series of mailings. But first he wanted to tune up his web site. And then redo his logo. Then he wanted to make sure that he had a great landing page for the marketing. And a good offer. And then he wanted to make sure that he had a good process for delivering a free network checkup. He even put all that on hold so he could create a decent video and post it on his web site.

In other words, he has been preparing to launch a marketing campaign for almost five months now. In the meantime, he has been busy with video production, new stationary, new business cards, a new web site, etc. He doesn’t see that he’s actually hurting his own success by putting off the actual marketing campaign.

All of this activity is good – and contributes in a positive way to his business. But there are two factors to consider here. First, marketing campaigns need to go on forever. You should start marketing your business and never stop. Therefore, it makes no sense to delay the start until you’ve ticked off a large list of prerequisites. Do something now. Do something better next time. Do more after that.

Second, this big buzz of busy-ness is masking a bigger problem: My friend hates marketing. He doesn’t want to do it. As with many technical people, he’s not comfortable bragging about his accomplishments and asking people for money. He knows it has to happen, but he doesn’t want to do it.

One of the hardest lessons to learn is that we are all under-achievers when it comes to things we don’t like. If you don’t like marketing, you won’t be a good marketer. You’ll put it off. And when you finally do it, you’ll do a half-baked job. If you hate finances, you won’t keep track of cash flow and monthly projections. And you’ll only do finances at the last minute, as required

Here are three tips for turning “busy” into productive.

  1. If you love something, and it has high value for your business, assign it to yourself. You’ll do great work, you’ll do it in a timely manner, and probably no one would do it better.
  2. If you hate something, assign it to someone else. They’ll do a better job than you. In fact, you’ll be amazed at how well these tasks can be accomplished by someone who loves doing them.
  3. Prioritize your to-do list. When something works its way to the top of the list, it has to be done. If you’re not the person to do it, find someone who is.
  4. When you find yourself working on anything for more than fifteen minutes, ask yourself how important it is. If it’s not high priority, the chances are very good that you just “caught yourself” working on busy work instead of something that really needs to be done.

I am not saying that new web sites or promotional videos are bad. Of course not. But every task that needs to be done can be assigned a priority. And whether you use a three-point scale (High, Medium, Low), or a ten-point scale, or a hundred-point scale, all those tasks can be listed in order from highest to lowest priority.

Busy work often consists of important tasks that need to be done – but don’t necessarily need to be done right now. They are great procrastination tools because they’re hard to argue with. Who doesn’t need strong promotional materials, a great web site, and a good network checkup process? But you need to be aware of the tendency to elevate those activities above something that should be a higher priority in your business.

You need discipline for this. You’ll always be able to justify your busy-ness to others. Only you know when you’re really avoiding the more-productive work that needs to be done.

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