Staying Busy Keeping You Down? 4 Tips To Reclaim Your Day

Have you noticed how easy it is to burn through several hours online without really accomplishing anything? I could easily (and sometimes do) spend 4+ hours a day just between email, Twitter, Facebook and reading/commenting on blogs.

And that’s a BIG problem. Unless you make an income solely by participating in conversations online, there are probably other things you should be doing.

Just staying busy might feel like you’re accomplishing something, but staying busy is a false success. What really matters is what you’re getting done by staying busy.

This is especially true when you have limited time to work on certain projects. If you’re trying to get a side business off the ground during weekends/evenings, or if you’re traveling and only spend a few hours working per day, staying busy can keep you from getting anything done.

Here are four tips to help you focus on what matters, and to avoid being busy but accomplishing nothing. These tips will help you whether you’re working 4 hours a week or 14 hours a day.

Start each day with a prioritized to-do list

Every so often, Dave Navarro (@RockYourDay on Twitter) sends out one of the most productive tweets I’ve read:

If you only had 2 hours to work today, what would you work on? Ok, do that first.

If you have 8 or more hours to work in a day, it’s easy to assume you’ll get to the important things at some point. But we all know how one distraction leads to the next and how entire workdays can be blown in the blink of an eye.

Before you jump into checking email and running down a million little favors for other people, start the day by jotting down the handful of things you really need to get done. Ask yourself Dave’s question above each day and you’ll start in the right direction.

Time-box social media

Social media, like Twitter, email, Facebook, etc. can be really useful for marketing your website or blog. There’s no doubt about that. But they can also keep you from doing other equally important things, like creating content or building products.

Decide how much time you should be spending on social media each day, and limit yourself to that amount of time. Maybe you’d like to spend an hour each day, or 10 hours a week. Whatever your goal, put it on your calendar or start a stopwatch when you’re engaging in social media. That should keep you from spending entire days on Twitter. You can always readjust the time limit if you don’t have enough.

Keeping Twitter and email open all day long is probably the biggest productivity trap for most people. If you want to check it multiple times a day that’s fine, but close the apps each time your time limit for that session is up.

Be ruthless about unsubscribing from email

As you sign up on more and more lists and newsletters, your inbox can become a giant time-sucking mess. I’ve found that ruthlessly unsubscribing (and using filters in Gmail) from the crap I don’t read (or don’t have time for) can save me hours each week.

If you find yourself skipping/archiving/deleting messages from a particular sender three or more times in a row, it’s time to unsubscribe. Or, if you want to be able to read messages from that sender only once-in-a-while, you can always create a filter that dumps those messages into a special folder. Just be sure to keep them out of your inbox.

Eliminate real-world distractions

If you’re doing any sort of creative work, real-world distractions can really stop your flow and sap your productivity. Cut out real-world distractions and make the most of the time you have. Close your office door, go somewhere quiet where no one knows you, or tell family/friends/coworkers not to bother you during certain hours.

Once you start cutting out distractions and limiting time on social media, you’ll get a lot more done in the areas that really matter. And don’t worry, Twitter will always be there even if you’re not on it all day long.

What other tips do you have to avoid the “staying busy” productivity trap? Let us know in the comments!

photo by mescon

I'm Corbett Barr, co-founder of Fizzle and entrepreneur for a decade. Get my weekly curated email of useful things for independent entrepreneurs »

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