5 Ways You’re Busy But Not Actually Productive

With all its back-to-school frenzy, September can feel like the busiest month of the year.

But are you actually getting shit done? Or caught in the busy trap, spinning your wheels?

Watch out for these common productivity-killing habits – and take steps now to reset and restructure for a fiercely focused fall:

  • Avoiding the hard stuff

We’ve all been here, right? You’re super busy answering emails, paying bills, sending those thank-you notes all as a means to comfort yourself as you avoid that one, big, challenging report you can’t summon the energy to even approach right now.

How to bounce back:

At the start of each day, write down the 3 highest-priority action items you must get done that day, and start in on the most challenging one right away. Close your email browser down, disable alerts, and set a timer for 20 minutes to focus exclusively on that most challenging task to get you started.

  • Analysis paralysis

“Fail to plan, plan to fail.” We’ve all heard it before, yes, but sometimes too much of a good thing can backfire. Are you all plan, no action? It’s easy to spin your wheels in over-analysis, fall deep into a bottomless research pit, and avoid making any decisions because you feel the need for more information.

How to bounce back:

When making your project plans, set concrete deadlines for arriving at decisions and taking action to move forward. Remember to prioritize progress over perfection. You might not get it all perfectly right, but that’s where learning happens. If you never act, you’ll never grow.

  • Caught in meeting limbo

Similarly, group indecision can often manifest in the form of meeting after meeting after meeting. And most meetings, well, they’re not that productive, after all. Calling a meeting shouldn’t be used as a substitute for making real progress on a project, but they’re often used that way to portray a (false) impression of forward momentum.

How to bounce back:

Schedule shorter check-in style meetings (30 minutes max) and make sure there are clear objectives and outcomes stated at the start of each. Send around an agenda and materials for review in advance of the meeting and ensure that action items are clearly delegated to specific individuals with concrete deadlines.

  • Your phone is your boss

Having disabled all my app notifications years ago, it blows my mind when I see how continuously summoned people are to their cell phones. Do you really need to know immediately when you get a new Instagram like or Snapchat follower?

How to bounce back:

When you turn those notifications off, you become the boss of your phone (instead of the other way around). Check your phone when you want to check it, not when it’s ordering you to.

  • Never taking breaks

When you’re super busy, it’s tempting to stay glued to your screen and never walk away from your work. But “push through” at your own peril, boss!

How to bounce back:

Taking intermittent, rejuvenating breaks between periods of intense focus have been shown to be helpful for aiding creativity, focus, and efficiency. So make time for focused intervals of intense productivity – and then walk away! Grab a coffee off-site. Take a lunch break with a friend. Go walk around the block. You’ll return better for it – and ready to get even more shit done with the rest of your day.

Want to work on staying present and focused at work – without feeling busy all the time? Levo just released a free video course with social psychologist and author Amy Cuddy, all about Presence. Go check it out and you just might hear from me in the course on my favorite personal productivity hack.


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