Are you busy or productive?

By nature, humans have a propensity to keep busy, even when it is counterproductive. Sitting idle is uncomfortable, especially in a time crunch, so the tendency is to keep moving and working, though this often does not result in better performance.

According to the Harvard Business Review there are two main reasons for this common behavior. First, people have an aversion to idleness — keeping busy has the illusion of productivity, compared with doing nothing. Second, people have a bias toward taking action. When faced with a question or challenge, we prefer to take action in some way, even if doing nothing is really the better course.

For example, professional soccer goalies have the best chance of defending against penalty kicks if they stay in the center and don't move, with a 33.3 percent chance of stopping the ball, according to the report. However, only 6.3 percent of goalies stay in the center even though just 12.6 percent of those who dive to the right and 14.2 percent of those who dive to the left stop the ball. So why don't they just stay put? Because it looks and feels better to dive and miss the ball than to stand still and watch the ball fly into the goal.

This action bias is also present in work situations, especially those related to high stress or time pressures — it may lead us to jump into action in an attempt to find a solution before taking the time to fully understand the problem and create a plan. According to the report, in one study, people reported feeling more productive executing tasks than planning them, even though planning leads to higher performance than diving into tasks without a predetermined course of action.

In addition to taking the time to think and make plans before beginning something, reflection can also help improve productivity. According to the Harvard Business Review, employees of a call center in Bangalore, India, who took the last 15 minutes of the day to reflect on what they had learned did an average of 22.8 percent better on a final training exam than employees who continued working through the last 15 minutes of the day.

In another study, researchers identified two types of CEOs out of a group of 354 CEOs of listed Indian manufacturing firms. Each CEO recorded the activities they engaged in at work over the course of a week. Those that engaged in advance planning primarily interacted with direct reports and were likely to hold meetings with many people who performed a variety of functions. The second type of CEO didn't plan and was more likely to hold meetings with outsiders in one-on-one meetings. In the end, the study found the CEOs who engaged in planning were linked to higher firm-level productivity as well as profitability, according to Harvard Business Review.

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