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Busy doesn't equal Productive

Over the course of my lifetime, I have evaluated productivity in many different ways. Growing up in a family-run small business, there was always something to be done. And, if you weren’t actively doing something, you weren’t pulling your weight (implied laziness?) I stayed busy with swim team, riding my bike, climbing trees, doing homework, helping out at the store, setting the table, going to 4H meetings, Rainbow events, or sorting my stamp collection. Still to this day, my parents are pushing 80 and they rarely seem to just sit down and relax.

During college, I can remember filling almost every hour with study time, especially before an exam. I hadn’t yet heard of the concept “diminishing returns,” or I would’ve realized that the last 2 hours “studying” probably only yielded 15 minutes of quality time. In hindsight, I might have been better off getting more sleep.

When I started my career with a big company out of college, I remember feeling like my colleagues who always headed to their next meeting, the ones that were too busy to sit down with you, were the most productive and driven to succeed. After a few performance review cycles, I realized there was more to it than that, obviously, but there was still a strong perception in that workplace that busy people must be more productive than their less-busy counterparts (almost regardless of what or how much value they were adding).

One of my most impactful and life-altering experiences with managing time and being forced to improve my processes was after having my daughter, in glaring obviousness – my grocery shopping process. We moved from Tennessee to a small, rural community in Ohio when she was an infant. The town had just closed their grocery store and the closest one was 30 minutes away on country roads. It was a bitterly cold and snowy winter. Moving from Tennessee meant I hadn’t prioritized the all-wheel drive option on my SUV. Just getting my infant bundled up, in the car, to the store, shopping, and repeating the return process was at least a 2 hour ordeal, when the roads were clear.

My epiphany came one particular trip when she bawled almost the entire time and got sick in the car on the way home, crystalizing the fact that my process for grocery shopping was not cutting it. I needed to pare down the aisle browsing and be laser focused on my list. The drive time was a constant so my goal was to be in and out of the store in 30 minutes; this would shorten the overall trip to 1.5 hours, a more manageable window for an infant between feedings and naps. I knew I couldn’t forget anything because a return trip was out of the question.

For the newer moms reading this, it might be hard to comprehend but this was before cell phones, before the internet was used to order everyday items, before online ordering and front door delivery existed. I got a printed store map from customer service and created a grocery list template with items listed by aisles, then filled in the list from the recipes I was planning to make the coming week. Staples, the items purchased every trip, were pre-circled so I didn’t have to consider them every time. We also invested in a bulk-store membership and started buying regular consumables once a month, which for formula and diapers, was a blessing to skip on my weekly grocery trips.

One particularly useful insight from this improved process was I understood the value in time spent preparing for the grocery trip. I’ve always been prepared person (you should’ve seen her diaper bag!) but having a precise list, not backtracking any aisles, and being both efficient and effective with my time in the store allowed me to cut 30+ minutes from my trip. HUGE! Success!

I marvel at the tools available to me now that help keep me on track in the store. I use an app to create running lists of anything I might need to buy soon, at a variety of stores. The items I have had on lists before are ready to be added to the list again. My daughter has the same app and can add items in real time. The list is always up-to-date. I have the grocery store app on my phone and can look up an items’ aisle location in the store. I can also pre-load my rewards card with coupons of things I know I am going to purchase. (Or I can do all of that on my computer and drive to the store to have them load into my trunk or deliver to my door)!

All that said, technology is wonderful and I should be more productive and therefore, have so much more time because of it, right? Yes and no. If used wisely, these aids can make grocery shopping and other tasks more efficient but…….productivity is about accomplishing the most important tasks on your list. That is a whole other blog. 😊

I’ll end with this. Being busy doesn’t mean you are actually productive with your time. And those people, the ones that make you feel lazy because they are just SOOOOO busy, always rushing from one thing to another, don’t necessarily accomplish everything they need to. Perhaps they don’t manage their time well and are rushing because they way overcommitted themselves.

Be purposeful with your time. It is precious. Plan ahead when you can. Be mindful and present with your tasks. Try to allow enough time to complete your tasks well (enough). Let go of perfection.

be you. be productive.



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