What is the difference between being busy and being productive?
There is often a lot of confusion when we talk about busyness versus productivity. These two things are not synonymous, regardless of what you may have heard. A busy life is like a river that flows for miles, but it’s extremely shallow. It goes far but doesn’t actually achieve much. A productive life, on the other hand, is more like an ocean. It is not only large, but deep, sustaining wildlife and accomplishing great feats.
With that in mind, you’re probably thinking you would much rather live a productive life than a busy one. How do you tell the difference between the two, where you fall on the spectrum and how you can transform your busyness into productivity?
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself if you are interested to know if your busy life translates to being productive. Even if you think you are the most productive person in your office or among your friends, you might be surprised to find out you are just leading a busy, and not very productive, life.
How big is your to-do list?
You can tell a busy person from a productive person based on whether or not they tend to brag about the size of their task list. Busy people, for whatever reason, like to talk endlessly about how busy they are. Productive people, on the other hand, not only know how to limit the tasks on their to-do list for maximum efficiency, but spend more time doing than they do talking about it.
If you really want to be productive, you need to limit your tasks. It isn’t about how much you get done in a day as much as it’s about how well you do those things. You might be able to write 10 articles in one morning, but how many edits and revisions are you going to have to make later? You might be able to run all your errands without making a shopping list, but will you have to sprint back to the store later to pick up two more things you forgot during your first trip?
You simply cannot say yes to everything, not if you are aiming to be truly productive throughout your life instead of just busy. If you want to be productive, limit your to-do list to only several major tasks per day with some smaller ones wedged in-between. This will help keep you focused and ensure that you are not doing another thing that will stifle your productivity: multi task.
How many things are you trying to do at once?
Someone who has multi tasked before knows very well the thrill often associated with jumping between one task and another simultaneously. It really does feel like you are getting more done when you are doing several things at once. Unfortunately, that is not exactly the reality.
Productivity is all about efficiency and focus, neither of which can be accomplished when you are trying to do multiple things at the same time. You might think talking on the phone and reading through emails saves time, for example, but after that call you are either going to have to reread through most of those messages or call that person back.
There is no way you can pay enough attention to both the phone call and the emails to absorb all that information to the extent you needed to in order to comprehend it. Attempting to do so will only make both tasks take twice as long as they would have if you would have just done them one at a time, one after the other.
If you are truly being productive, you are already, perhaps without even knowing it, engaging in something known as single tasking, which, as you can probably guess, is the exact opposite of multi tasking. When we are trying to do too many things at once, we are actually hindering our ability to problem solve and get things done to the best of our ability. Things take longer and don’t get done as well the first time.
Are you putting work before rest on your priority list?
Unfortunately, you do not often see busyness without exhaustion. It has become more culturally acceptable for us to work ourselves into a state of never-ending tiredness because we feel that taking the time to relax, sleep and enjoy ourselves is less valuable than time spent actually getting things done.
A productive life involves a healthy balance between working hard and resting on a daily basis. You are technically working backwards if you never let yourself rest, because the more exhausted and burned out you feel, the less work you are going to be able to get done down the road. The work you do manage to get done will be of much lower quality as well, which only hurts your productivity even more.
You are much better off setting specific hours for work and specific hours for rest, instead of “working nonstop until it’s finished” or sacrificing sleep for crossing yet another task off your list. Regular meals, sleep and sufficient down time away from screens are all important parts of being productive. When you work hard, you need to let your brain and body recover afterward, consistently, every day if you can.
You are never too busy for sleep or for doing something you enjoy. The things you think you need to finish today can most likely wait until tomorrow. When you’re tired, rest. Don’t just keep pushing yourself to work when you have had enough for the day; you will be much more productive tomorrow after you spend the rest of your evening resting and letting your mind and body recharge.
Don’t settle for a shallow, unfulfilling life. Go deeper. Ask yourself these questions and make any necessary changes to turn your busy life into a productive one. Productivity, unlike busyness, leaves you feeling fulfilled, energized and happy, which is how you know you are not only living a productive, but an amazing, life.