I believe that we have misinterpreted the word, “productivity.” We strive to see how many “things” we can check off of our “to-do” list each day. And there is this sense of deep pride when we talk about all we have to get done and just how busy we are.

My question, though, is when was the last time you took a good hard look at the items on that list in terms of how they help you to achieve your goals? In other words, are you spending your time doing the things that will move the needle forward for you? Or, do you find that the abundance of items on that list isn’t much more than busywork?

I would offer that, until and unless you prioritize your goals, your progress toward them will be nominal at best. This, of course, requires discipline. It means, first and foremost, getting clear about your goals. What are you wanting to accomplish and why is it important to you? You then need to begin breaking it down into its component parts so that you can begin to see a path from where you are today to where you want to be. And then, you need to align how you spend your time with the goals you have set for yourself.

Beth’s story may help to illustrate what I am talking about. Beth is a department head who has been with her organization for several years and gets exemplary reviews. She’s known for “getting things done.” One thing Beth hasn’t been able to accomplish is getting promoted. This is important to her both personally and professionally. When we sat down and took a good hard look at how she had spent the last 30 days, and what she had on the docket for the next 30 days, she quickly recognized the gap between what her goals were and how she was spending her time. We worked to begin delegating certain meetings and tasks to her team. This both allowed her to leverage their strengths and aspirations, building the team’s capabilities and creating space for her to begin to be more strategic.

It’s not about getting more done. It’s about doing the right things.