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  • Writer's pictureCharlie Barclay

You Can Be Productive: Here's How

Updated: Feb 12

Ever watch a baby when they are learning to crawl? There can be a lot of movement without a ton of progress. You may laugh and think, "What does a baby learning to crawl have to do with my productivity?" Well...

Activity does not equal productivity.


We have all been there. You feel like you have worked all day, week, year, or even your whole career; when you look back you think to yourself “I didn’t get anything done!”


I feel like this almost every time I clean my garage. I move a lot of stuff. I get sweaty. I PROMISE myself I am throwing sooooooo much stuff away this time. I go through stages of excitement to clean the space, anger for keeping too much too long, quiet reflection as I find stuff that belonged to my mom and dad or the kids when they were little. After hours of work and the accompanying emotional roller coaster, I am finally finished. I stand back to admire the results of all of my labor.


It looks EXACTLY the same!


I’m in a puddle of sweat, my back is sore, my family is avoiding me and all I have to show for it is this?! How is possible that I can work this hard and see so little progress? It’s simple.


Activity does NOT equal productivity.

Read that again. Like you believe it.


Seriously, read it again.


Ever watch a baby when they are learning to crawl? There can be a lot of movement without a ton of progress. I actually watched my son when he was a baby reaching for a toy that was right in front of him. He stretched, groaned, and cried. His little hands open and outstretched toward the goal. There was a ton of activity, effort, and noise.


One problem…


He was moving backwards. The harder he struggled the further he got from his goal. It didn’t matter how bad he wanted his toy. It wasn’t an issue of desire. He was active, for sure. He also wasn’t very productive in reaching his goal.


Been there.


Now you may not have the same struggle with Spring cleaning or reaching for a toy on the floor (if you do, I can recommend a Physical Therapist), but I’m willing to bet there is an area in your life you feel “stuck” at best. At worst, something you’ve given up on because you’ve moved so far backwards.


For you, maybe it’s a diet you have started with zero results. Maybe it’s training for that 5k you are going to run that elusive “someday”. You may find yourself stuck in a career you don’t love or a relationship that has grown routine.


It’s not for lack of trying. You’ve put in the time. You are in a puddle of sweat, staring back at a garage that seems uncaring to all the work you’ve just done. Somewhere along the line, we fell into this trap of thinking that activity is the goal.

It’s as if we think if we just keep doing the same things longer or try harder that something will change.

To a degree, that may be true. We can’t expect to reach our goals without consistent hard work. We need to keep in mind, though, that activity is not the goal.


For instance, I coached baseball for a lot of years. In all of my years of coaching we lost every game when the other team scored more runs than us.


Duh.


Not even one time did it matter if we had more hits, more runners on base, or made more great defensive plays. The only thing that mattered was which team had more runs cross the plate.


Activity does not equal productivity.


If we had the bases loaded every inning and never scored, but we walked four straight batters to start the game and then struck out every one of their batters out the rest of the game, we still lost.


Activity does not equal productivity.


Have you ever felt busy but not productive? It’s frustrating, disheartening, and pretty discouraging. I don’t know where you’re stuck. Maybe it’s moving your business forward. Maybe you’re trying to organize your house, or perhaps you are trying to lose that last 10 pounds.


I think maybe I can help. I have been stuck in places like that more than a time or two myself. I’d like to share with you a few things that have helped me to focus on what matters and not just be busy.


Here are three things that have helped me:


1. Identify the “Win”


You have to figure out what the goal is before you can measure your progress! We often confuse activity with winning. I was really busy today, I must have really accomplished something. Depends. What was the goal, what was the win?


If you ran ten miles on a treadmill today you’re probably tired. Does that mean you “won”? If your goal was to train for that half marathon you registered for then yes, well done. If your goal was to run to your friend’s house… you failed. You’re still in your basement. You ran a lot, you’re tired, you probably stink but you didn’t go anywhere.


I know it’s a ridiculous example. I could have said something like: if it’s your goal to start a side business so you can fast forward your retirement plan and you’ve spent 3 hours after work going down the YouTube rabbit hole watching videos of people walking on the edge of a 100-story building jumping from ledge to ledge you probably didn’t “win” today. At least as it regards starting that business.


What if I had said this? It’s your goal to run a Spartan Race before you’re fifty. (Who would have said that, out loud, publicly, on multiple occasions? *Gulp!) What if I also said that you haven’t been to the gym in a week, haven’t been eating right, and haven’t gone for a run since… I don’t know… third grade! However, I (I mean you) have managed to sit at Starbucks to work and eat fast food today! You probably wouldn’t say that you “won” today in relation to the Spartan Race. You were busy though.


I COULD have said those things… but none of us would ever do those things. Also, you know that last paragraph was about me right?


So right now, as a start, define a win for you in the following areas:

  • Career (Get a promotion by years end)

  • Relationship (Have a regular date night with your spouse)

  • Health (Lose “x” amount by “y”)

  • Hobby (Learn to play guitar)

There are a million different things you could identify as an area you want to “win”. These are just meant to get you rolling. One of the things I do to come up with different areas to identify wins is to think about the “hats” I wear. Husband, father, leader, coach, and on and on. Think about what it looks like for you to “win” today in those areas.


Remember, activity is NOT the win, it’s what we do to get there.


2. Win the Day


One of the things I talk about all the time is “winning the day”. Once we have identified what we want to accomplish, what can you do to get you closer to the win today?


Here’s how I do this: I have a journal that I write in every morning. (The Five Minute Journal from www.intelligentchange.com is great.) One of the things I answer is the following:

Today would be great if.. - I ran a mile - I encouraged someone - I talked to…

It really is that simple for me. As I keep my wins in mind and answer that question, it gives me a framework to be intentional with my day. Plus, added benefit, it works for me! I actually feel like most days I am moving toward my goals when I think like this.


ADDED BONUS (Hint)

I have learned that as I define what would make the day great, it’s best to list things that are under my control. For instance, do not write “Today would be great if my long lost friend called me” or “…if it was sunny and 73 with a 3 mph south westerly breeze, a small cardinal rests on my should whilst a young doe eats from my palm…” Those things all seem great, but they are all out of your control. Your day now rests in the hands of someone else doing something for you or most of the laws of nature being broken. (By the way, if that second scenario should happen, please post pictures in the comments.)


Take control of your day. I have also noticed my days are usually great when I use them to help others and live with other people in mind.

Try that every day for one week. Ask yourself at the beginning of your day what would make it a great day for you. It may be harder than you think to identify at first. Review it at night and see if you “won”.


3. Blind Friends Audit (this one hurts a little)


You won’t believe what I’m about to tell you:

There is something in your life you are doing that you are not good at and you have no idea.

Don’t believe me? Ask your friends. What’s that you say? You don’t think they’ll tell you? I have a plan for you. First, let me explain what I’m talking about.


We all have blind spots. There are things we like to do and we think that we are better than we really are. How do I know? One word:


Karaoke.


I have watched people crash and burn behind the mic but work the room like an American Idol finalist. My wife and I like to say in those moments, “Nobody loves them.” What we mean to say is; why wouldn’t a friend step in and say, ‘Hey, you know what? Maybe we should go bowling tonight?’ or ‘I love you. You can’t sing. I still love you.”


I don’t know what your karaoke is. Maybe it’s administration. Your employees may be hoping you’ll realize it and hire an admin. You may think you are a great graphic artist but can’t figure out why you haven’t gotten return customers. Bottom line, we all have a blind spot.


So before we go and define the big wins in our life we want to make sure it’s a realistic goal. For instance, I can go out and work on my jumpshot and ball handling skills 6 hours a day. I’m not likely to find myself in the NBA next season. I’m not telling you to not aim high or go farther than you ever have. I’m saying if I have a goal to be an accountant it’s going to be extremely difficult for me as I am certainly not a “detail person.” Most of the time, the things you want to accomplish will line up with your passions and abilities…but there are times when they just don’t. In those times, we need someone to speak into our life and help redirect us.


Here’s what I did: I created my own Blind Friend Audit. I sent an email to five friends that knew me well, had worked closely with me or for me in the past and asked them some revealing questions. The key here; they didn’t send me the results. They sent them to another friend who agreed to compile the answers and give them to me. He removed any phrases or context clues so I wouldn’t be able to identify who gave what answers. This gave my friends the freedom to be painfully honest and candid so I could really hear the truth.


Here are a few of the questions:

  1. How has Charlie’s leadership impacted your life?

  2. What should Charlie spend the majority of His time doing?

  3. What should Charlie never do again?

  4. Is there something that Charlie thinks he is better at then he actually is?

Some of the answers stung. Some confirmed what I already thought. Still some others were super encouraging. At the end of the day, it provided some clarity.


I hope that you are encouraged to know that you can be more productive. I hope that you will wake up tomorrow determined to win the day. Like the old Chinese proverb says,

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

No matter how big or far off your goal may feel, start working toward it today. Make that list, start that journal, and ask those friends. It will be hard. You won’t make progress every single day, but if you’ll live each day on purpose, you’ll stop feeling stuck.


Go out and win the day. I’ll see you at the Spartan Race…or at karaoke.


If you or your organization has any questions about being more productive or if you would like more info or advice on the Blind Friends Audit, please comment on this post or email me at charlie@charliebarclay.com.

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