14 March 2016

Be effective, not busy: here’s how

Author: Kyle Hauptfleisch

Being busy is the new black. No one dares to answer a question like “how’s your day going?” with “yeah not bad, not much to do. Perusing Facebook, seeing what’s happening on the Twittersphere…did you see the latest John Oliver?” They feel obliged to look serious, furrow their brows and say, with exasperation: “Busy, so busy”.

It’s funny that both statements are true, most of the time. Only, with some honest context it would be: “So busy…perusing Facebook, the Twittersphere and having a laugh at John ripping into Donald Trump.”

Hell, even some of us diligent folk may even be busy with genuine, real life work stuff. But are we being effective? Is the effort bringing results?

Often, the short (and honest) answer is no. We are merely doing things that we think are important, putting off the real important stuff like a master procrastinator.

So here are four words, all cleverly starting with “P”, to make you effective.


It seems an obvious one, but is obviously missing from most people’s tasks.

What are you trying to achieve? What is the end goal?

Having a clear picture of what you are actually trying to do is paramount. Integral. Vital, in fact. Starting every day with a pensive moment dedicated to what your overall goal is, and what you need to achieve that day, will ensure that you are not wasting your time on tasks that are not bringing you closer to your goal. Ensure that your daily goal is related to the overarching one – that new logo probably won’t convince that potential client to sign.

Call it context.


Once you know what you are doing – and it’s not as common as you would think – it’s time to cut the waste from your day. Look at your to-do list. If you do not have a to-do list, this is a good time to make one. Figure out which tasks are going to have the biggest impact on your end goal, then your day’s goal. Those are the tasks you need to do before anything else.

Timothy Ferris, world renowned productivity hacker, advocates selecting the most important task from your list and doing it before 11 AM. When everything seems important, ask yourself these two questions:

“If I could do only one thing today, what would it be?” and “The single most important thing today is…?”

If your answer doesn’t relate to your overall goal, you need to reevaluate your definition of ‘important’.

Tim isn’t alone. The United States Military calls this “Commander’s Intent”. Each order issued has a CI at the top. Experience has shown that battle plans become redundant very quickly. Putting the point of the strategy on the orders ensures that everyone knows what they are doing and why.

You can always delegate the menial things – in fact, it’s advised.


Productivity. The word is excellent. It encapsulates meaning, demanding a result.

Going through your to-do list and identifying the most important tasks will make you feel like you have accomplished something. Beware the lie. All you have really done is figured out what to do. The difference between knowledge and wisdom is simple: knowledge is knowing what to do; wisdom is doing it.

Luckily, being productive is contagious. Admiral William H. McRaven, in a speech at the University of Texas, advocates making your bed every day:

”If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed…And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made…”

Getting that NB task done before 11 AM will probably motivate you to carry on cracking out the deliverables throughout the day.


There is an element of planning in all of the above points. And with good reason. Planning your day will ensure available time to execute the important to-dos.

Distractions are everywhere. Emails, social media, employees, colleagues, doughnuts. The stream of distractions vying for your attention is never ending. The best way to deal with them is a plan. Schedule time in your diary for emails, the most likely culprit. An hour first thing, half an hour after lunch and another hour before you end your day should suffice. If you’re expecting critical emails, put on an out of office stating that you are checking your emails at certain times, and that you’re available for critical issues on your cell.

Sticking to your schedule is another important point. Do not be afraid to stop people from interrupting you. Ask them if they mind emailing or coming back later.

Using the “Pomodoro Technique” is excellent for both planning and productivity in general.


These are merely points to consider without discipline. Your will power is finite – it can run out. But it can also be exercised like a muscle. Using it regularly will increase the size of your will power reserves. Interestingly, this is one of the reasons that students are encouraged to study regularly in University. It builds will power.

Finally, in an effort not to render all previous paragraphs useless, a single quote to summarise it all, compliments of Peter Drucker:

Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.”

About the author:
Kyle is the sales director at Dash of Lime (Primedia Online). He is passionate about humans, digital and any food that is not marzipan. He is also an avid believer in a selling process that is ‘value centric’. Rule of thumb: make or sell things (products, services, paradigms etc.) that solve problems; that way selling is easy, ethical and not conducive to banging heads against walls.

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