Busily Unproductive

young businessman running in a city street

Productive actions move things forward. You are being UNPRODUCTIVE if you are not performing activities that are DIRECTLY tied to achieving your goals.

Imagine you are a real estate agent. You wake up early Monday morning, ready to take on the day. You’ve poured yourself a big cup of coffee and crack open your laptop.

You check your email first. It is full of promotions. You read through them. Archive and delete all except one for a seminar you are interested in attending. Nearly achieved inbox zero, nice and productive.

Once you’ve cleared your inbox you go onto the MLS and to see if there are any new listings, price reductions etc. Market research is important. You’re on a roll!

Next you move to your blog. You’ve been working on it for that last few months. Not a lot of readers yet, but writing is a great exercise to clarify your thoughts and create content your clients will find useful. Boom! Unstoppable.

Let’s make sure your internet presence is solidified with updates to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

You end your day by once again processing your email.

So were you productive? For real estate agents, moving your business forward means serving clients and finding new ones.

Did you do that?

Maybe you emailed a few clients but most of the day was spent doing tasks that were not DIRECTLY related serving or finding new clients. To start, you know the following is true …even if you don’t want to hear it: 

The web wastes time, social media wastes time, email wastes time.

People feel busy when they are processing emails, but this is often a reactive task.  Responding to each email as it comes in is not productive when there are pending projects that need to be done.


How can you make sure you are performing activities that are DIRECTLY tied to achieving your goals?

It takes 3 steps to avoid time wasting busy work. The steps are Plan, Do, Review.

1. Plan with backward design.

When you’re not sure where you’re going, you’ll never know when enough is enough. People who are very busy are often busy because they lack of clear direction.

Once again, let’s imagine you’re the same real estate agent. It’s a new Monday with a new cup of coffee.

Except this time, you have backward planned your year. You’re a new agent, so your goals are modest. First sale within 3 months, have 10 clients under contract by month 6, earn 8 commissions by year end.

rainbow color marketing funnel - vector illustration. eps 10

You  know that for every 1,000 flyers you send out OR 100 people you talk to, you gain 1 prospective client and every 10 prospective clients turn into 1 sale.

So to meet your year goal of 10 sales, you must send out 10,000 flyers or talk with 1,000 new people.

Printing and sending flyers cost $1 and your marketing budget is $5,000. You go all in on flyers and will send 5,000 of them to your selected neighborhoods over the course of the year to keep top of mind awareness. This means you have to meet 500 new people this year …about 10 a week.

Having this plan, you know your week must involve meeting 10 new people and sending out 500 flyers.

Once you have a plan, it becomes easier to take the right ACTIONS and create the right SYSTEMS to move forward.

Nomad Work Concept Image Computer Coffee Mug and Telephone on black wood Table and Evening Sunlight shining throw large windows focus on Edge of Laptop

You wake up early Monday morning, ready to take on the day. You’ve poured yourself a big cup of coffee and crack open your laptop.

First thing you rewrite your flyer’s copy to reflect current market conditions. “Prices and interest rates are going up. The time to buy is now.”

After rewriting the flyer that will be automatically sent to the neighborhood of your choice, you move on to your email. You’ve set up filters in Gmail so your promotions are automatically filtered into a folder that you check every other day.

Because your inbox is not cluttered, you immediately see an email for someone you meet a few weeks ago at a neighborhood block party. She wants to know what the price of the house across the street.

Instead of emailing her back with the number, you pick up the phone and call her to reconnect and let her know what the price of the house. You find out she is interested because her good friend is moving into town and she is giddy about the idea of becoming neighbors with her BFF. You get her friend’s contact info and send the perspective client a quick email with pictures of the house and a promise to follow up with a call later that evening.

Another Reason to Pick Up the Phone: A study by two academic psychologists at New York University and University of Chicago demonstrated that people reading e-mail correctly interpreted the sender’s intended tone only 56% of the time””yet they believed they had correctly interpreted it 90% of the time.

Once your email is processed, you finish preparing a talk you are going to give to your business networking group: “The 10 Things You MUST Know Before Buying Your Next House”. You take your PowerPoint and embed it on your blog with SlideShare. You also use the Buffer App, so the presentation will automatically be sent from your blog to your all of your linked social media accounts.

You end the day by once more processing your email and calling the new lead about the house she might be interested in.

So were you productive? Let’s see.

Moving your business forward means serving clients and finding new ones.

Did you do that?

  • You started your day rewriting your flyer to make it useful to the people you send it to. You noticed that when your flyer was updated with fresh, helpful information you actually got 2 response for every 1,000 mailings. Doubling the number of potential clients that respond to your marketing moves your business forward. That was a VERY PRODUCTIVE activity.
  • Next you open your email and respond directly to your clients. In doing so you were able to gain one more client. By effectively processing your email you served an existing client and found a new one. DOUBLY PRODUCTIVE.
  • You then finished creating a presentation for your business networking group. There are 30 people in this group and you expect that the members will be able to pass on this useful information to their network …no guarantees, but the talk will likely lead to more clients. PROBABLY PRODUCTIVE.
  • You shared your presentation online. This also might help serve current clients, find new ones or increase the response rate of people who go to your website through your marketing efforts. Less direct. path to moving your business forward. MIGHT BE PRODUCTIVE, but it only took a few minutes so it didn’t sap your day.
  • End the day with responding to email and calling a new potential client. The phone call was PRODUCTIVE.

The plan of reaching out to 10 new people a week allowed more focus on your daily activities. It made for an easy litmus test. ‘Am I serving of or finding new clients?’

Planning also provides you with an easy way to measure your success. For finding clients, did I talk to 10 new people this week? You could also backwards plan serving your clients. Did I help X number of clients today? Or did all of my clients get X number of contacts per year?

Without a plan, is often easier to get wrapped up in the urgent demands of the moment than to deal with the larger issues.

In addition to keeping your actions aligned with your goals, there is another POWERFUL benefit to having a plan: the reticular activating system (RAS).

The reticular activating system is like a search function for your brain.

RAS helps the brain notice information it thinks you will find useful.

For example, have you ever noticed you start to see more of the makes and models you are interested when you are looking to buy a new car? Let’s say you are interested in a Toyota Prius and you start to notice Priuses everywhere.

Was there a big Prius sale you didn’t know about or mass political shift toward driving environmentally friendly vehicles?

Probably not. This is just RAS at work. Before you were thinking about buying a Prius your brain didn’t find Priuses important, so you didn’t notice the Priuses that were already on the road.

You couldn’t function without this selected attention.

Currently, I am writing by myself  in my quiet, tidy kitchen. But there are a number of distractions that I am not letting pull me away from writing this article.

Sounds: The wurr of my refrigerator just turned on, I can hear the wind blowing through the trees, there are sounds of my roommate fumbling through his dresser doors and the clicking of my keyboard is undeniable.

Sights: There are also 27 neat looking utensils sitting in their containers on the counter. Two are red.  There are 5 other red objects in the room: a lid to a coffee mug, a metal tin, the dessert plates, a candle and Soda Stream water carbonator.

Smells: The lingering sent of the turkey bacon and eggs I had for breakfast.

Touch: My socks bunching up in my shoes.

Taste: Coffee breath.

You notice what you set your attention on. If you set your attention on meeting 10 new people a week, you will start to notice more opportunities to meet people.

You also notice what matches your internal belief systems. So believing you are likable, competent and will be successful can help. The reticular activating system is the ”˜secret’ behind the popular book, “The Secret” …which promotes visualizations and affirmations that can help you achieve your goals if used in conjunction with PLAN, DO, REVIEW.

2. Do. Set your default to action.

Do you find yourself thinking about doing more than actually doing? There is usually an inverse proportion between how much something is on your mind and and how much it’s getting done.

If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done. ~Bruce Lee


If you are worried about all the unknowns you will face, take some advice from one of history’s great leaders:

Let our advance worry become advance thinking and planning. ~Winston Churchill

Ask yourself what’s next then DO IT.

A way to shift your default from thinking to DOING is by strategically writing your thoughts down:

  1. Breakdown the plan to reach your desired outcome down into actionable steps.
  2. Write out desired outcome AND the action steps to reach your goal.
  3. Start taking action.

3. Review

The last step to ensuring productive work is review. Take the time to sit down and review the results of your plans. Are they helping you execute your priorities? Are you executing on the right priorities? What proactive steps could you take to gain better results?

It may be wise to cut out an hour each week for review and reflection. Keep asking yourself the hard questions and you will keep receiving the answers. The compound effect of a year incremental improvements can be dramatic.

If the hour you devoted to reviewing and improving your business processes increased your efficiency by 1% each week, after 50 weeks you’d be working at 165%! Working on your business instead of in your business helps you (the coffee swilling real estate agent) work smarter, not harder.


Being productive is performing activities that are DIRECTLY tied to achieving your goals. To ensure you are executing around your priorities you must:

  • Plan– to know your best, measurable actions AND leverage your brain’s reticular activating system
  • Do default to action- to avoid analysis paralysis
  • Review– to reap the rewards of continuous improvement

Plan , do, review is one way to prevent being busy without being productive. Do you have any other techniques to prevent being busily unproductive? Share your insights in the comments.

P.S. Keep in mind, your best thoughts about work won’t happen while you are at work. Give yourself the tools for capturing your thoughts, and thoughts will occur. With the right tools, you won’t forget important ideas or waste your energy thinking the same thought twice.

1 Comment

  1. Mark on January 24, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    This is a *great* article, Zachary, thanks for posting it.

    I love the clarity of thought, and the planning in reverse is a really important technique.

    Thanks again. Liked it so much I shared it on twitter :)