This article originally appeared on Inc.com
The quest to be more effective at work has hatched misconceptions about what having a productive workday really means. It has also led most people into thinking that being busy is tantamount to being productive.
Here are some valuable insights into what productive unicorns do during their work week, and how they are way different from busy donkeys, inspired by Conor Neill.
Busy people are hell-bent on fitting in more things into their day. Productive people cut their to-do list thoughtfully by 50 percent.
Busy people think that getting more things done in the sanctioned eight or nine hours at work is the way to go. They fit in too many tasks in their to-do list only to end up moving most of their tasks the next day. Productive people know too well that they do not need 40 tasks in their to-do list. They take a less-is-more approach when it comes to planning their work day by only accomplishing those that are important.
Busy people jump at every assignment. Productive people know the difference between “urgent” and “important.”
Busy people spend most of their time at work fighting needless fires because they get blindsided by urgent concerns at work that are in essence not that important. In every company, many things can be tagged as urgent, but these are usually established by your colleague or your boss who expects an answer ASAP. Extremely productive unicorns know how to differentiate urgent tasks and important tasks. They focus on getting what matters done instead of dividing their hours into trying to finish different urgent tasks.
Busy people are always distracted. Productive people create a system.
Busy people have developed productivity-busting habits over the years. They check their emails compulsively throughout the day and get interrupted whenever their phone buzzes. And this can actually make one’s brain slower.
In a recent study at King’s College London University, they found that compulsively fussing with your inbox can lead to a drop of 10 IQ points. Constantly switching between working on your actual task and replying to your emails also alters your brain structure leading to a lesser ability to focus.
Meanwhile, productive people create a system for even the most mundane of tasks, such as checking their emails. They reserve a short and specific time slot for managing their inbox, so they can concentrate more on what is necessary to fulfill their goals for the day.
Busy people multitask. Productive people focus.
Busy people try their best to do 15 things at once. They have several tabs and documents fired up on their computer while constantly checking on their calendar.
Productive unicorns place their focus on doing tasks that matter most as efficiently as possible. They multitask effectively by choosing to pair less important task with a complementary important task. For instance, a highly productive person writes notes about ideas on a potential project while waiting for a board meeting to start. Productive unicorns are also aware that they should only multitask if the other less important thing can be accomplished using a very small amount of diversion and energy.
If you are one of them busy donkeys who would love to morph into a productive unicorn, follow the 80/20 rules when it comes to your tasks. Remove the things that are not necessary during your workday provided that they have minimal impact on your productivity.
Busy people are the human equivalent of a 7-Eleven. Productive people know when to shut the door.
If you are OK about giving your energy and time to different options when you were younger, you might want to think twice now if you want to accomplish any of your goals. For younger people, it is OK to dabble into different things like learning how to code, setting up your own website, living in another country across the globe, and hiking the Appalachian Trail.
However, there comes a point in your career and life when you have to be thoughtful about what things to focus on. If you’re currently juggling your schedule, time, and money between learning how to code, setting up your website, preparing to live in another country, and planning to hike the Appalachian Trail, be a productive unicorn by ditching the goals that do not matter to you anymore. It is OK to quit strategically and give up on plans that are not exactly feasible and practical at the moment. Instead, focus your energy and resources solely on that one thing that resonates to your core.
Busy people are glued into their desks. Productive people know when to take a break.
Busy people rarely take breaks; they in fact, hate breaks thinking that breaks are for procrastinators. They are also frustrated when they see productive unicorns who look like they have all the time in the world and who are actually enjoying their work. Productive unicorns know when to give themselves a moment to refresh. They take breaks by going for a walk as they listen to their favorite jam, watching a short comedy sketch, meditating, or getting a snack. They know that they can achieve greater efficiency when they let their brains rest from several long hours of work.
Choose to reach peak productivity levels on any given work day by forgetting about looking and feeling like a busy donkey and transform yourself into a productive unicorn today.