Many people believe that being busy means that they are being productive. Yet, this is far from the truth. Productivity requires a certain skillset and a strong ability to manage time and resources, which busy people don’t always have. Learn the key differences between being busy and being productive and how you can increase your productive. (Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes)
“It is not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”— Henry David Thoreau
According to research the average human lives 25,915 days (71 years). A huge chunk of that time is spent sleeping or at work.
When you look at your life from this perspective, you realize that the clock is ticking and time is of the essence. Take a look at your schedule and ask yourself, “am I really making the most of each day? Am I growing, improving, and making strides in my life?”
It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when we’re inundated with competing priorities and looming deadlines. When our plate is full, there is a tendency to assume that just because we have lots to do, we’re actually being productive and accomplishing a lot.
During these demanding times, filled with distractions to derail our focus, it’s increasingly important that we learn how to manage our time and mental currency efficiently. We need to dial down the frenzy and, instead, work smart by finding optimal methods of getting things done.
The old parable of the ‘Sword Crafter’ exemplifies the essence of this truth:
There was once a master sword maker, renowned for his extraordinary craftsmanship. The quality of his work did not suffer if he increased his speed. After hearing of his remarkable skill, the king summoned him to his castle to meet the man himself, and learn more about his techniques.
The king asked, ” what is the secret that allows you to make such extraordinary swords?”
“It’s very simple my king”, the sword crafter replied. “When I was a young child I fell in love with the craft. It spoke to my heart and touched my soul. I made a decision – I would become nothing less than a master. As I grew up, I read all I could. If something didn’t relate to the sword, I spent no time on it.”
The sword crafter’s response to the king summarizes the key to mastery in productivity; getting clear about your priorities and goals and dedicating your efforts and time to the activities that will move you forward.
Momentum in any endeavor comes from high quality and focused efforts. Productivity isn’t about how many items you cross off on your to-do list but a measurement of the progress you make in projects that truly matter.
If you’re one of the millions of people who feel time-starved, I urge you to take a look at your schedule and reflect on it from a place of brutal self-honesty and ask yourself these questions:
Could there be some time-leaks and inessential activities which you could cut down on? Are you spreading yourself too thin over too many competing tasks? Could your scattered energy be due to the lack of clarity about what you really want in life? Are you wasting time on seemingly important things that are actually trivial?
In my experience of working in the corporate world, I learned to differentiate between busy and productive individuals. The busy ones tend to be those who like to amplify their ‘busyness’ by vocalizing all the things they have to do and then wasting time on unimportant tasks such as long-winded phone conversations, unnecessary meetings, and checking emails and social media accounts.
While the productive workers are humble, dedicating themselves to the nuts and bolts of their duties. There’s less talking and more doing. They get things done steadily and deliberately.
If you’re wondering whether you fall into the busy or productive camp, here are five key differences that will help you figure it out (plus how you can increase your productivity):
1. You focus on the right things at the right time: Productive people are masters at prioritizing. They have the discernment to carefully select what’s important and what isn’t. They identify those time-sapping tasks that get them nowhere and eliminate them from their schedule. Productive people focus on those few things that need their full attention and avoid time-wasting activities. Busy people on the other hand jump at every assignment without taking the time to classify them as urgent or not.
2. You focus on quality over quantity: Productive people concentrate on one thing at a time. They devote themselves to whatever they’re doing at any given moment. They focus on the tasks that matter, instead of jumping from one thing to another. Instead of juggling ten balls in the air and dropping a few in the process, they juggle two or four with dexterity and confidence. Productive people know that if they want to output the highest quality of work, it must have their full attention.
3. Your life and health do not go off-balance: Busy people easily lose track of their need for balance. They might sleep less, miss meals, or wear themselves out from stressful thinking to keep up the pace. Productive people know that neglecting their needs is counterproductive and that maintaining balance is pivotal. They strive to be more mindful, calm, and to maintain present-moment awareness. Because they prioritize self-care, productive people can sense when they need to nap, eat a healthy snack, speak to a loved one or step out for a walk in nature. Busy people, however, dismiss these needs and continue working till the point of burnout.
4. Your tasks are streamlined, organized, and structured: Productive people handle their schedules with the grace of a maestro. Instead of trying to cram as many things as possible into their day, they prioritize tasks and add them to their schedule in a way that seamlessly fits into the other areas of their life. They take the time to create a plan in advance so that they can efficiently execute it in the days ahead. This structure helps them stay on track with essential tasks, and avoid unnecessary ones like compulsively checking emails or getting interrupted whenever their phone buzzes.
5. You actually get stuff done: At the end of the day, productive people get the job done. Even if they move slowly, they will make progress through steady, calculated steps. With each passing day, they will move closer to their goal without losing sight of the finish line. Busy people might commit to a task but often won’t be able to fulfill their commitment due to poor planning and a lack of discipline. Busy people, for this reason, tend to be unreliable at completing tasks, even if they have the best intentions. Productive people are dependable. They will always follow through if they have given their word.
Walt Disney, who is considered to be one of the most productive people in history, once said that the only way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. His prolific career is a testament to the magic that we’re capable of during our lifetime. All we have to do is grab hold of the reigns and become exceptional good at managing our time and resources.
All my best on your journey,
Question: Can you differentiate between times you’ve been busy and times you’ve been productive? How can you be more productive?
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I so needed this! Thank you, Seline! I struggle with being busy and feeling like I am spinning my wheels and never actually accomplishing much. it is a struggle and it is a terrible feeling. So thank you for sharing this and for helping us find a way to break that cycle!
Hi Linda. I’m glad it helped you out. 🙂 All the best.
I’m sorry to hear about your husband Linda. Hang in there and stay strong. Hugs!
Thank you Seline! You have such a way with words and seem to be able to talk about anything and everything. I am glad you are sharing these thoughts and ideas and view with us. And I am sure many of your readers are as well!
Thank you for sharing of yourself. You rock and I can’t wait to see what you have for us next!