I think we’ve all been there – we complain how busy our day has been and then when we look back on it, we realize that we didn’t achieve all that much, despite feeling busy for every single second. This is because being busy and being productive are not the same thing.  

Since coming to this realization, I have been working hard to identify the times in my day when I feel busy, but am not doing anything that contributes to a bigger goal. Here is what I learned.  

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  1. Make sure the first thing you do is important 

One of the reasons for our lack of productivity on a particular day is that we start off on the wrong foot and often it just spirals out of control. It feels natural to ease into your day by drinking a cup of coffee and looking at your emails or the work chat groups. However, before you know it, you are sucked into conversations that are often not about the most important things on your to-do list. Instead, I have found that hitting the ground running usually gets me going and thinking about everything I need to do during the day. Then, when I finally do check my e-mails, I am constantly aware of how much needs to be done and I don’t spend any time on potential time wasters than I need to. In fact, this approach has added so much to my productivity that I now write down the one thing I need to start with at the end of the previous day.  

2. Get off auto pilot 

Automation has certainly made our lives a lot easier, but sometimes, we regard automation as the best solution when it really isn’t. We are so used to getting automated notifications when something hits our various inboxes, that we immediately go there without questioning it, even if the thing we are working on is more important than the message we just received. Then we get side-tracked and lose productivity. I have found that I get a lot more done each day when I turn off my notifications and just go to the inboxes a set number of times a day. For instance, if I decide I have two hours a day to devote to messages, I’ll split it up into four half-hour sections and put them into my calendar. When my time is up, I return to my other work. Learning this self-discipline is hard, because there are always interesting things in my inbox, but being firm with myself has really boosted my productivity. Thanks machines for everything you do for us, but when it comes to message notifications, I think I can take care it myself. 

3. Reflect 

When I wind up my day and write down the one important thing I want to get done first the next day, I also take some time to reflect on the day and to decide whether I met my productivity goals. If I feel that I didn’t I try to think of the reasons why not, and then of solutions to prevent them from creeping into my work schedule in the future. Whenever we are not productive, it is because we let the little distractions get the better of our productivity. When we are able to identify them and cut them out of our day, the amount of time we are able to free up can sometimes be astounding.