Busy vs Productive: What’s The Difference and Which Are You?

busy vs productive

Have you ever been told to “keep busy”?

Now, usually this implies that you should not be wasting time. After all, if you are always busy, you never have time to spare.

But is that really a good thing?

The term “busy” does have some negative connotations, after all. We bemoan “busy work” from our school days. Pointless worksheets that serve no purpose other than to fill the time.

So rather than “keep busy”, we encourage you to “be productive”. And in this blog post, we’re going to settle the busy vs. productive debate once and for all.

Busy vs Productive – The Difference

Let’s start with a few basic definitions to highlight the difference between being busy and being productive:

bus·y /ˈbizē/ adjective – having a great deal to do

pro·duc·tive /prəˈdəktiv/ adjective – achieving or producing a significant amount or result

You can fill every single waking hour with work and never get a single worthwhile thing done. That’s what it means to keep busy. 

You spend a few hours cleaning up your email inbox. Spend a few more designing a logo for your business that hasn’t landed a single client yet. And waste the rest of your time reading about what you should be doing rather than actually doing it.

When you have a productive day, however, you are making important things happen, regardless of how much time you actually spend working. 

You get your inbox cleared in 15 minutes by prioritizing what matters and not agonizing over getting every message perfect. You spend $10 to outsource logo design on Legiit and use the time you saved to prospect for your first clients. And instead of devoting hours to watching courses or reading theory, you spend 30 minutes absorbing info and the rest of the time putting it into action.

In short, a busy person fills their day with activity. A productive person fills their day with purpose.

How To Avoid Busyness

To avoid wasting your day by just keeping busy, you need to identify behaviors that aren’t contributing to your growth and the growth of your business. Here are three actions you can work into your routine to help you avoid excessive busyness.

Assess your mindset throughout the day.

Being busy is characterized by frantic behavior. Productivity is characterized by focus. 

Throughout the day, be mindful about your attitude towards your work. Is there a task that you are ignoring? Are you only filling the time in order to avoid doing something more important? Do you get a sense of fulfillment from the work you are doing?

If you can slow yourself down, look inward, and honestly assess the nature of your work, you’ll be much less likely to waste an entire day with busy work.

Prioritize your to-do list.

Prioritizing is one of the most important skills for an entrepreneur to develop. It allows you to separate the critical jobs from the menial ones. If you are spending 80% of your time on tasks that only contribute to 20% of your growth, then you’re just keeping busy.

When you create a list of tasks that need to get done every day or every week, take an extra minute to organize the list around priority. Then commit to not spending your time on the low priority tasks until the high priority ones are taken care of.

Outsource the stuff that slows you down.

You’re going to be constantly tempted to return to that busy work. A good way to remove the temptation altogether is to just hire someone else to do the tasks that drain your time away. 

It could be stuff that you aren’t very good at (so it just takes you longer). Or it could just be the mind numbing work that takes everyone a long time, regardless of skill level.

Either way, if you would be making more money doing something else, then it makes sense to outsource the task.

How To Maintain Productivity

Eliminating busyness is one thing. But if you don’t take steps to maintain your productivity, then you could end up just wasting time doing nothing. So here are a few tips that will actually help you keep yourself productive every day.

Set a timer.

When you sit down to cross a task of your to-do list, set yourself a timer. The sense of urgency encourages focus and action. If you only have 25 minutes to answer emails, for example, you simply can’t waste any more time on it.

Schedule breaks (and take them).

Believe it or not, taking breaks actually boosts your productivity. One study found that the most productive people, on average, work for 52 minutes and then take a 17 minute break.

While busy people like to work 24/7, it’s usually because they are really trying to avoid some sort of really important task. If they were to slow down, they’d be forced to look it in the face.

Of course, the 52 minutes on 17 off is just an average. You’ll have to experiment to find what works best for you. But the point is that you should schedule breaks within your day to regain focus and recharge your batteries.

The only caveat is to let yourself enjoy the benefits of the flow state. Sometimes, we get so “in the zone” that we barely notice time passing at all. These are highly productive and creative moments. So don’t take a break in the middle of a flow state (unless you really need to). Ride the wave and make things happen.

Accept that done is better than perfect.

Finally, a big part of maintaining productivity is realizing that eventually, you have to accept a task as done. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a blog post, drafting an email, building a website, designing a marketing strategy, or anything else. There is always some piece of it that could be better. So rather than wasting an extra 8 hours trying to get it “perfect”, you’d be better off accepting it as “good enough” so that you can use those 8 hours more productively.

And the same goes for work you hire out to employees, freelancers, or contractors. You could spend all day double-checking their work or nit-picking over little things here and there.

But does it really need to be perfect? Or are you just finding another way to keep yourself busy?

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