When busy doesn’t equal productive …

Recently, I completed the certification for FranklinCovey’s 7 Habits for Successful Managers, the training component based on Stephen R. Covey’s very successful and highly acclaimed The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  This program was developed specifically for small business owners and managers. 

 The training provided a much-needed opportunity to reflect on my own managerial style and how effective I am in provided leadership for my organization and employees.  There were several light bulbs illuminated during the two days, but one in particular resonated strongly with me.   

Habit 3 is putting first things first.   Stephen R. Covey puts it this way, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically – to say no to other things.  And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside.”  Translate that into a manager’s behavior, it is moving from being the manager who is convince that s/he can do it all to the manager that organizes and executes around his or her highest priority. 

If you are like me, you tend to focus on the urgent – not the important.  At the end of the work day, I felt like I had crammed a whole week’s worth of putting out fires and resolving problems, but yet really hadn’t accomplished the things I wanted to get done.  I was busy, certainly.  But I wasn’t very productive! 

In a study published in the Harvard Business Review, two professors found that 90 percent of managers waste time in ineffective activities.  The largest group of the study, roughly 40 percent, was managers who were well-intentioned and highly energetic, but their activities were unfocused.  They began projects with the best of intentions, but wound up either “fighting fires or abandoning the project all together.” Only ten percent of the managers were considered highly focused and highly energetic.  (Bruch and Ghoshal, February 2002)

So how does a manager go from being busy and unproductive to focused and productive?  Thankfully, there are tools and techniques to assist in making that shift.  First, and probably most difficult, is becoming very clear about your important goals.  Focus on the important goals, the ones that make or break or your organization.  By not squandering energy on projects or issues that don’t help achieve those goals, the work becomes much more energized and focused – and thereby much more productive. 

If we go back to Covey’s quote in the beginning of this column, we get to the crux of this habit.  This is difficult for the busy manager because busy managers don’t say no.  Productive managers do.    We all want to be good team players, help out others, be seen as a needed members – the list goes on and on.  But, how many of these activities keep managers from accomplishing and reaching the true goals. 

If you, as a manager, can’t say no – start practicing.  Go from being the busiest manager you know to the most productive.  Truly, when  you think about it, which would you rather be?


3 responses to “When busy doesn’t equal productive …

  1. Good summary of the Covey 7 Habits on focus and time management.

  2. Thanks!

  3. This is excellent advice on productivity vs activity

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