The Difference Between Being Busy And Being Productive

The Difference Between Being Busy And Being Productive


When we think of someone being productive, we tend to think of someone engaged in highly focused work or activities, driven by a sense of purpose and specific, strategic goals. When we think of someone being busy, we tend to think of someone engaged in multiple simultaneous tasks, driven by a sense of frantic urgency, overwhelm and stress; someone who is often interrupted by distractions, who answers “yes” to every request, and whose priorities are often in disarray. So, which are you? Let’s find out!

The Difference Between Being Busy And Being Productive
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Many people think that being busy and being productive are one and the same thing. This is absolutely not the case. In fact, unfocused “busy-ness” can significantly hinder our ability to be productive.

Let’s take a quick look at the basic dictionary definitions of these two common words.

Busy – “having a great deal to do.”

Productive – “able to produce large amounts of goods, crops or other commodities.”

When we think of someone being productive, we tend to think of someone engaged in highly focused work or activities, driven by a sense of purpose and specific, strategic goals.

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When we think of someone being busy, we tend to think of someone engaged in multiple simultaneous tasks, driven by a sense of frantic urgency, overwhelm and stress; someone who is often interrupted by distractions, who answers “yes” to every request, and whose priorities are often in disarray.

Looking at these definitions, which would you rather be? Busy or productive? Are there any benefits attached to being constantly busy? You don’t get extra life points for being busier than everybody else. It’s not a competition. There are no awards to be won for being “The Busiest Person Ever”. Wouldn’t you prefer to be good at other things, rather than being good at being busy?

Productivity is not about being “busy” and “always on”, or about people taking on more than they have the capacity to cope with. Such levels of activity inevitably lead to burnout, making people less productive, rather than more productive.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but being less busy almost always leads to becoming more productive. Having more time to rest, wind down, enjoy hobbies, and spend quality time with family and friends results in more energy (both physical and mental), increased focus, more enjoyment of life, more happy memories to cherish, and more fulfilment, both in your personal life and in your working life.

So, are you ready to stop being busy, and to start being more productive instead? If so, get started with the following steps.

Get a sense of perspective

Gaining a sense of perspective involves considering your WHOLE life – not just your working life.

This goes for whether you are an executive manager of an international conglomerate, a doctor, a teacher, a small business owner, or a shop assistant.

Think about what sort of person you want to be remembered as

Would you prefer to be remembered as someone who always gave 110% at work, but was constantly seen running around like a headless chicken?

Or would you prefer to be remembered as someone who was calm and relaxed, and 100% focused on everything they did, whether this was spending quality time with family and friends, participating in a hobby, working out at the gym, leading a class, or running a small business?

Someone who was a good (though always stressed out) employee / employer but an absent parent/family member/friend, or someone who was a fully engaged parent, son/daughter, friend, as well as a great, calm and relaxed manager/colleague?

Establish your personal values

Identifying your personal values goes hand-in-hand with getting a sense of perspective in every aspect of your life. Take some time to think deeply about what truly matters most to you; what you truly value in your life. This could be family, relationships, health, security, work, money, travel, free time, or whatever else feels most important to you.

Write down or draw/paint images to represent those things you feel are truly valuable to have in your life, then display these values somewhere you will see them every day, as a constant reminder.

Each time you feel yourself being pulled further away from your core values, stop and think. Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” If the answer is not, “Because it aligns with my core values and will be sure to enhance my life”, then take steps to decline or avoid those activities, requests, or demands on your time.

Change your perception of time

Each and every one of us has the exact same number of hours in every day. So, how is it that some people seem to get so much more done than others? Why is it that, given the same To Do list, some would breeze through it in an afternoon, while others might take three days to get everything done?

Of course, the answer to this question is complex and multi-faceted. If we leave aside variables such as age, illness, disability, expertise, etc, we are left with clever scheduling techniques, and being able to prioritise tasks effectively. However, there is often another, perhaps more interesting factor at play, and this is the perception of time itself.

People who believe that they are always “short of time” will approach a list of tasks with a different attitude to those who believe there is ample time to complete the tasks. The former belief can negatively impact our decision-making and time estimates, whereas the latter belief can enhance our performance and productivity.

Re-evaluate your priorities

Everybody needs balance in their life to function effectively. The term, “work/life balance” is rather telling, in that the concept of what constitutes “work” is separated from the concept of “the rest of our life”.

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With this in mind, think about percentages.

What percentage of your life would you ideally want to spend working, with family, bringing up children, cooking, cleaning, eating, sleeping, travelling, exercising, indulging in leisure pursuits, etc?

Is the answer 50% work, 50% absolutely everything else? Or would your ideal ratios break down rather differently?

Next, calculate how you actually spend your time at the moment. Break down your daily schedule into categories for one week, then see how this compares with your ideal.

If you’re spending 80% working and leaving 20% for everything else – i.e. life – does this feel right for you? Or do you need to reprioritise how you spend your time?

Cut out energy-sapping, low priority activities and responsibilities

Cut down on all those things that sap your energy but don’t contribute greatly to your quality of life.

Do you really need to be on all those committees? Do you really need to say “yes” to every single new project that comes your way? (take note, people-pleasers). Do you really need to attend every single meeting? Do you really need to stay on at work until 7pm, so that you arrive home too late to read a bedtime story to your child?

By getting yourself into these situations, you will just heap unnecessary pressure, stress and guilt on your own head. It’s time to let some stuff go.

Let go of perfectionism

By definition, perfectionists are always busy, but they are rarely very productive. If you self-identify as a perfectionist, know that letting go of this obsessive tendency will liberate you.

Try to foster a sense of “good enough”. There is ALWAYS more that could be done, whatever it is you are working on, but exhausting every possible avenue and running yourself into the ground in a quest for ultimate perfection is simply not necessary or viable. Nobody should be expecting this of you (if they are, then get out of that situation a.s.a.p.), and you shouldn’t be expecting it of yourself either.

Delegate tasks whenever possible

This is another one for perfectionists, in the main.

If you have always been used to being in control of every single task, it can be very difficult to let go of those that could be done by others. Perfectionists fear that others won’t complete the task properly, or to such a high standard, and that this will reflect badly on them.

However, the many benefits gained by delegating and sharing tasks and responsibilities far outweigh any potential disadvantages.

For example, delegating lots of simple tasks gives small business owners the time to focus on higher-level tasks, as well as giving employees the ability to develop new skills. It can also bring a fresh perspective or improvements to outdated processes that business owners may have become “blind” to over time.

Delegation can also engender trust between managers and workers, and will ultimately improve efficiency, time management and productivity in the workplace.

Put workplace measures in place for your staff

If you operate a small business with employees, then you will know that it is important to lead by example.

After all, if employees feel that they are working in an overly busy and chaotic environment, then they won’t be very productive, and this will greatly affect your business.

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If you are a perfectionist, and/or a constantly “busy” person, it is very likely that your staff are picking up on the stress and pressure you are placing on yourself. They may even feel that they have to emulate your perfectionist tendencies to keep you happy. However, as we have seen, this can be extremely counter-productive for the workplace.

Consider putting in place a range of simple measures for your staff, to help them to achieve realistic goals for your business. Build a culture within the workplace that highly values productivity over perfectionism and “workaholism”. One in which you and your employees work smarter, not harder.

Now, go take that well-earned break!

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