Improve Your Personal Productivity

Why are businesspeople so busy?


In First Things First, Stephen Covey says “People expect us to be busy, overworked. It’s become a status symbol in our society — if we’re busy, we’re important; if we’re not busy, we’re almost embarrassed to admit it. Busyness is where we get our security. It’s validating, popular, and pleasing. It’s also a good excuse for not dealing with the first things in our lives.” 

Consider your beliefs and patterns concerning using your time and being busy. Do you: 

  • Enjoy working long hours and having lots of things to do?

  • Get validation or does it make you feel really overwhelmed?

  • Perform low value tasks to distract you from dealing with unpleasant, but much more important, ones?

  • Avoid conflict, procrastinate or just take on too much?

  • Say “yes” to every request for your help or time?

What gets measured gets managed

Every person should take the time to examine just exactly how you spend your time. This can be done by creating a Time log with an e-calendar, Excel spreadsheet or in a desk diary showing an entire week. Keep your Time log with you and fill it in for at least two weeks and work out your patterns of time usage. Note down exactly what you were doing in each of the 10 minute blocks during the week. 


Classify where these tasks are on the Task & Time Management Matrix: Reactive, Escapist, Crisis Management or Being Effective (desired). This will increase your awareness of time and how you can better spend it. 

  • Were you performing mostly high value or low value activities?

  • Do you have a similar routine happening during each day or week?

Before you start your time log, develop categories such as visiting, preparing, planning, reading, learning, meetings, family time, relaxation, travel, emails, telephone calls, etc. Estimate how much time you would spend in each activity before you start your log. Once your log is complete compare your estimates to the way you actually use your time. Then compare that to your vision and values. Identify the key areas for improvement.

Not as ‘effective’ as you would like?

Follow the activities above and your productivity will significantly increase almost immediately and sustainably if these practices become your daily habits. 

Life balance


Any business has the ability to totally consume all the waking hours of the owner. Business is a never- ending game. There is always much more that could be done. It is never finished; there is always more research, more analysis, more innovation, more competitor study, and more customer interaction that could be done. No one ever said on their deathbed “I should have spent more time at work”. Make sure your time log reflects the values and priorities that you have for your life and not just being “busy at the busyness”. 

Business is a deceptively seductive game. It meets many of the human needs and can offer you money, status, growth, interaction, love, energy, excitement, contribution, information, certainty and risk. For many businesspeople it also provides for their family. It can be a very addictive, totally absorbing, activity. There is, however, life outside of business as many people have discovered. 

A truly balanced life should contain activities in a range of non-business areas including health/fitness, relationships, spirituality, family, personal development and finance. 

Your values

In order to live a full and satisfying life, take some time to discover your own values and priorities. Ask yourself three questions:

  1. “What’s important to me in my life?” (life values),

  2. “What’s important to me about working for this company?” (work values) and

  3. “What’s important about being a ...................?” (career values).

Keep asking the question until you get five reasonable answers for each. Then prioritise the answers 1 to 5. The priority is very important as it determines exactly what motivates you and gives an insight into what you perceive to be missing in your life. 

Know your outcome

For every activity in your life you should know your outcome before you begin. As Stephen Covey in ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ says, “Begin with the end in mind”. Try this with some of the activities in your life. What outcome do you want from exercising today, having this meeting or hiring that person. Most importantly think about the outcome you want in your life.

Take your list of life, work and career values and make up some goals or objectives that you would like to achieve in each of these areas. The goals may be life goals to be achieved in your lifetime or just goals that you would like to achieve this year. 

What do you really, really want?

Everyone should have a goals list. There is a saying that “you either have a goals list or end up working for someone that does!” Make sure your goals are not just a simple to-do-list for your life, try adding some really big challenging goals or ones that almost scare you and you can see no way of achieving easily. Write your most important goals in a recurring e-calendar or keep a written copy with you. 

Focus for success – the 80/20 rule

Pareto’s principle or the 80/20 rule is a byproduct of a lop-sided, skewed or non-normal distribution chart. A good example is “80% of sales turnover is the result of 20% of your customers". Applied to time management, it is not how hard you work, it is how smart you work. You can get 80% of the results you want with 20% of the effort. This gives you valuable leverage for your time by applying yourself in the right areas. 


Keep a diary (electronic/paper) and write things down

Studies show that more than 80% of any new information learnt is forgotten in a very short time. Taking notes during meetings, seminars, presentations and phone calls will improve both your recall and productivity. There are numerous Apps available to assist in note taking productivity for the paperless inclined. 

Want to know more?

nem has developed a Task & Time Effectiveness module that explores aspects from this document. It categorises these aspects into manageable tasks, activities and creates benchmarked expectations to help you work more efficiently and effectively. 

To find out more, or to request a copy of the Time & Task Effectiveness module , get in touch at