Go From Busy to Productive in 3 Easy Steps

Linda walks through the doors of the hotel and into the conference. Bob greets her and asks, “How’s business?”

“Busy,” she says proudly.

“Well, that’s a good problem to have,” Bob says. But, now, unknown to Linda, he’s thinking he needs to cultivate relationships with other writers. Writers who aren’t too busy to devote the time and attention it takes to do a top-notch job when he needs help.

How often do you answer, “Busy,” or something similar?

I used to do it myself.

We do it because it’s an easy answer and it shows we’re in high demand, BUT it could be backfiring on us.

It could be sending the wrong signal.

Saying business is “busy” is different from saying it’s “good.” Try saying, “I’ve been getting great results for my clients. Business is good.” You’ll trigger a very different response!

When you tell people how busy you are, they may be hesitant to give you referrals. If they’re clients, they may worry about giving you more work, thinking you won’t be able to give their job the attention it deserves.

That’s NOT a message I intend to send!

But, let’s take this even deeper …

Are you telling yourself that you’re too busy?

What does “busy” LOOK like?

In my world, “busy” looks like a cluttered desk covered with piles of notes for projects, bills to be paid, records to be filed, business cards I’ve collected from various events, and so on.

I’ve always been able to find items I need on my cluttered desk. I know which of the many piles to look in. But it does take me some time to sift through those piled-up papers looking for exactly what I’m after.

But just as saying, “I’m busy,” may be sending someone else a message that I don’t mean to send, my cluttered desk was sending a “busy” message too — it was making my subconscious brain shout, “NO MORE!”

My clutter was pushing my brain into data and sensory overload … making me distracted and less productive when I sat down to write.

I was finding it harder to concentrate at my desk. I started taking my work to other places around the house, but that took me away from my notes and files … yet I had to get away from all that “busy-ness.”

So I cleared off my desk, found a space for everything, and now I’m making better use of my time and am much more productive.

If it worked for me, it can work for you, too.

So, here we go …

3 Steps to a More Productive, More Profitable Workspace

1. Clean it up by ruthlessly throwing out what you don’t need.

If you’re like me, you collect promotional pens that people give out at trade shows and conventions. We’re writers, but even the most prolific writer doesn’t need as many as I discovered tucked away in, on, and around my desk when I cleaned it up. (Confession: I had 18 just from the last wine industry trade show I attended.) I kept the best ones and tossed the rest.

Speaking of trade shows and conventions, what are you doing with all the business cards you collect? When I cleaned up my desk, I counted 104 that had been taking up room. Really.

I recommend using a card scanner to digitally store all that contact info. The one I found is CardMunch, a LinkedIn app for Apple mobile devices. You take a photo of the card, and the app does all the rest. It took me about 30 minutes to remove the claustrophobic clutter of all those business cards.

Next, I gathered up the notes and loose papers and went through those. Some I tossed. I put those that I still needed to keep in one consolidated pile. Bills to pay went in their own pile.

Now is a good time to actually clean your desk, too. Mine was pretty dirty underneath all the “stuff.”

So to recap, your “clean it up” action steps are:

  • Toss out (or give away) excessive office supplies.
  • Scan business cards and keep contact info in a digital format.
  • Go through loose papers and notes to decide which are “must keep.” Throw the rest away. (Consider scanning the “must keep” notes into Evernote. They’ll be searchable by text — even if the text is handwritten — which will make them easier to use, and you’ll eliminate that clutter, too.)
  • Clean the dust, dirt, and grime off your desk.

2. Organize the stuff you need so it’s easy to get to and use.

Think about an airplane … Space is limited, so there’s a designated place for everything, and everything must be in its place.

Approach your desk with the same mindset.

I like organizing paper into file folders — nice, tidy compartments for ideas.

I have four retainer clients that I do work for every month. I keep hanging file folders with notes on their projects in a portable file box next to my desk. It’s handy when I want to take my laptop to the deck and work in the fresh air — I just grab the folder I need and go.

Notes on ideas for prospects — those who I’d like to work with but who are still in the “developing a relationship” stage — go into pink file folders.

Proposals that are awaiting final approval are in green.

Notes on active projects for clients are in bright orange folders.

These various file folders now reside within easy reach in a vertical file holder on the corner of my desk. It’s still the pile concept, but much more conducive to productive work.

The pens I kept (you knew I couldn’t throw away my entire collection!) are stashed in holders and in my desk drawer. Bills to pay have their own vertical file system.

It may seem simple — because it is! The trick is in actually doing it … and then to keep doing it.

Your “organize it” action steps are:

  • Give everything its own designated space.
  • Put things in their place.

3. Develop a strategy to keep it clean.

I confess that I’ve done this clean sweep before, and my desk never seemed to remain clean for long. I have a new strategy for that, too …

Figure out what the “rent” for each square foot of your desk is. We’ll use an example of $60,000 annual revenue, which equates to $5,000 per month. And we’ll use my desk dimensions of 2.25 ft. x 4.25 ft., which is about 9.5 sq. ft. So using these specifications, every square foot of desk space is worth $523 each month.

If it’s taking up $523 worth of space, it better be worth it!

Assigning concrete value to my workspace has been incredibly empowering. You can use my “value per square foot” strategy, or come up with one of your own. You need something that will motivate you to keep your desk the clean productive space that you’ve now made it.

I know this approach is somewhat controversial, and you might be resistant to the idea of keeping a clean desk. You might be convinced that you thrive in “creative chaos.” But a clean desk is working for me, and it just might work for you, too.

You owe it to yourself, your business, and your bank account to try it for a few weeks. If you’re more productive, great! If not, you can (easily) let the clutter accumulate again.

But at the very least, stop telling people (and yourself) how “busy” you are! Instead, tell everyone “business is good” — and mean it.

I’d love to hear how you’re going to put this strategy to work. Leave me a comment below!

This article, Go From Busy to Productive in 3 Easy Steps, was originally published by Wealthy Web Writer.

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Published: November 13, 2013

7 Responses to “Go From Busy to Productive in 3 Easy Steps”

  1. Great article - and ideas, Michele! I think I need three desks, though - one for my writing, one for the church work I handle and one for personal - oh my!

    LydiaMNovember 13, 2013 at 2:21 pm

  2. Very good article. The headline reminded me of my favorite quote from the late, great, Earl Nightingale: "Do not mistake activity for progress. You can keep busy in a rocking chair, but you don't get anywhere."

    CK WilliamsNovember 13, 2013 at 4:11 pm

  3. Thanks, what a great reminder! I do notice my busyness often doesn't seem productive. I keep a notebook so I write and ck off what I get done each day. And I take some time out to organize and toss stuff each week. Just need to make a habit of it now!

    Guest (horselover2 )November 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm

  4. Thanks for the great ideas. I have started color-coding but having 500 plain manila folders to use so I color the top tab with my many different highlighters. As for the 'rent'idea - fabulous!
    Horselover2, I think it's time for me to get a notebook, too. Thanks for sharing.

    NancyONovember 14, 2013 at 6:11 pm


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