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How to stop being so busy and start being more productive

Being ‘busy’ has somehow become a status symbol. ‘Get it Together’ author Lauren Berger says this is how to gain control of your calendar, instead of it controlling you.
Image: Office wotker at messy office desk eating a sandwich
Knowing when to disconnect can improve efficiency — both in and out of the office.Getty Images

Somehow, we are now under the impression that how busy we are is supposed to equate how successful we are. A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research argues “a busy and overworked lifestyle, rather than a leisurely lifestyle, has become an aspirational status symbol.” There’s even money in it: Time saving devices (your smartphone) and services (any grocer that will deliver you food), “can trigger inferences of busyness and status, regardless of how busy one truly is,” says the study.

Lauren Berger, author of "Get It Together"
Lauren Berger, author of "Get It Together"Kristen Harner

Lauren Berger, founder of, became determined to write “Get It Together: Ditch the Chaos, Do the Work and Design Your Success” because she was sick of hearing people boast about how busy they were.

“I felt like there was this false connection between how busy you were and how successful you were, and this isn’t true,” says Berger. “It’s hard because work and life are so enmeshed these days, but I wanted to tell people you don’t have to be busy all the time to be successful. It’s about you being in control of your day and how you spend your time, finding what works for you and being intentional about your day and routine.”

We likely have more time than we think we do

Case in point: When we have pockets of unscheduled time, we don’t always know what to do with ourselves. A recent eight-test study from the Journal of Consumer Research examined whether unscheduled time before a scheduled task during the work day changes how people perceive and use their time. They found people tend to perceive they have less time than they actually do, get less done as a result and are less likely to take on ‘extended time tasks’ during those unscheduled pockets that could potentially make them more money.

Berger described always feeling behind the 8-ball, and that her calendar was controlling her, instead of the other way around. That’s why preparation is a big part of Berger’s prescriptive M.O. In “Get it Together,” she helps readers consider how attending to small details, like picking out your clothes, packing your gym bag and making to-do lists the night before, can improve their lives and routines. “I think being hyper-aware of the small wins the things that make you feel like you have it together,” she says. “Being prepared gives you confidence.”

Reclaiming wasted time

An integral part of this is figuring out how to schedule your day in a way that allows for your humanity. “Corporate culture tells us that we need to be avail 24/7,” says Berger. “It’s up to the employers to change their mentality, because people are too stressed and they’re cracking. And employees are going to have to set boundaries and not put up with it.”

Part of this is unplugging and when it comes to unplugging, Berger practices what she preaches. She recently took her work email off of her phone and enacted a hard stop to her work day. “My friends give me guilt about being a CEO and not being connected all the time. I hope to give people the confidence to say ‘no’ and not be on the phone and eat dinner,” she says.

Berger says her methods have enabled her to be more engaged and present when she is working, and the benefits have trickled down in unexpected ways. “There’s something very beneficial about handling emails when you’re in the mindset of working, and not when you’re trying to relax,” she explains. “I got a rejection email the other day — as CEO, I get them every day. Because I took my email off of my phone and saw the email during my workday, I was able to respond in a sophisticated, professional way. Two months ago, when I still had everything connected, I would’ve seen the email before I went to bed and wouldn’t have slept.”

Knowing when to disconnect can improve efficiency — both in and out of the office. For this reason, Berger insists her employees unplug during their weekly planning meetings. “We used to have meetings that would go on for hours, and people would go off on tangents. Now, we have a closed computer policy and it’s cut our meetings down to 20 minutes,” she says.

She also insists employees draft agendas before meetings. “Just the simple act of planning for the conversation can help you take control of your time,” she says. This also extends to goal-setting, which is the focus of a chapter in her book and another part of Berger’s success strategy. “You should have your top three goals memorized and shout them from the rooftops,” she says. “Breaking them down into an actionable plan is just as important.”

When planning for success, one must also consider the possibility of failure. Berger says the most constructive way to deal with failure is to know how you’re likely to cope, and figure out how to stay productive while coping. “When things go wrong, the show must go on. This extends to the workplace. It’s so important to know what works for you, and activate that solution. If I let a failure derail my entire day, I’ve created seven more problems. If I go on to the next thing on my list, I can circle back and cope when I’m in a clear head space,” says Berger.

How to be productive instead of busy

To be more productive during your workday, Berger recommends you:

  1. Find your focus. With so many notifications and alarms going off, workdays are filled with distractions that can derail our productivity. Berger recommends committing to whatever it takes to stay on task. “If you have to throw your phone across the room or put on headphones to tune out distractions, so be it,” she says.
  2. Don’t work blindly. When you set about doing a task, do so with specific intention, says Berger. Don’t just sit down to answer emails — five hours can pass. Instead, Berger recommends approaching emails or other tasks with an action plan considering a desired outcome.
  3. Align your to-do list with your calendar. By blocking out time on your calendar to tackle to-dos, you won’t be derailed by meetings and lingering action items.

Though some of these solutions seem like common sense, sometimes it helps to be reminded that the devil can be in the details. Unless you plan for that, of course.


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