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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Being Busy vs. Being Productive

Dear Sue: Do you have advice for ways to get things done before they reach a crisis mode? My plate is so full that I tend to put things off until the last minute, which means I am always working under pressure and on a tight deadline. This is causing me a lot of stress. I am very busy every day, but some days never get to many of my tasks. - Stressed

Sue Says: There is a difference between being busy and being productive. People can busy themselves in many ways; spending time organizing, preparing, talking on the phone , talking with people, dealing with other people's problems, etc. However, random busyness can often lead to a feeling of distress if you are busying yourself with things that aren't really important.

Have you ever had your sleep disrupted because you remembered something you forgot to do? Have you ever felt at the end of the day as though you didn't get anything done? Chances are you weren't sitting idle; you probably were busy, but busy doing things that either weren't critical, necessary or important.

There are many reasons people avoid doing things before they become a crisis. Some people simply prefer to work under pressure and find that only when a deadline is near that they will take the time to the task. Other common reasons for procrastination: the task is too time consuming, difficult, boring or overwhelming.

Mark Goulston, author of "Get Out Of Your Own Way", has a unique perspective on procrastination, and says that people procrastinate when they are lonely. For example, many alcoholics and substance abusers have difficulty overcoming their addiction until they join Alcoholics Anonymous or another recovery program. Gouslton says that it's not the 12 steps that help such people to finally give up drinking or using drugs, it's having the support of a sponsor and a fellowship to look to when you're wandering off course.

The same is true for people who procrastinate on taking better care of their health. Although it is a well-known fact that a healthy diet and exercise will lead to better health, many people fail to do anything about changing their bad habits unless they are forced to. Some people become motivated when they discover that their clothes no longer fit, while for others it may take something more serious, such as a health crisis. For some, working with a nutritionist or personal trainer is the answer to finally gaining momentum on the path to better health.

Goulston recommends overcoming loneliness-based procrastination by enlisting the support of other people. A procrastinator can become an activator when around others. That's why people have jogging buddies, study groups and collaborators. Make a trade with a friend and reciprocate by offering to help out with something he or she is trying to get done.

Determine at the start of each day what you need to get done, and spend your time on the tasks you have identified as most important rather than allowing yourself to be distracted by spending time on menial tasks. You have identified a trigger of your stress, and the good news is that you can do something to eliminate it.

Not only will you feel better as a result, but ultimately, you will be more productive, in control and the type of person others can count on.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

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