Why “Busy” Isn’t the Same Thing as “Productive” (And What to Do About It)

CHRISTINE WILLIAMS

3 min

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Why "Busy" Isn't the Same Thing as "Productive" (And What to Do About It) | Bloggers + Freelancers, do you find that you're always BUSY with a million things to do, but you end up feeling overwhelmed and unproductive because of it? Here are some tips on how to combat it!

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As I write this post, I don’t think it could have come at a more applicable time. To say this week has been busy is an understatement. I’ve managed to complete a project at work, finish off a gift for my boyfriend’s 30th (!) birthday, move to a new house, scramble to finish an assignment for school, and all before heading off for a holiday in Bali! Phew! I’m tired just thinking about it.

Why "Busy" Isn't the Same Thing as "Productive" (And What to Do About It) | Bloggers + Freelancers, do you find that you're always BUSY with a million things to do, but you end up feeling overwhelmed and unproductive because of it? Here are some tips on how to combat it!

So with all that mayhem, you would think that I’d feel a sense of accomplishment for getting so much done this week. But the truth is, even though I stayed crazy busy, I wasn’t very productive. That sounds a little confusing, I know. If you’re busy, you should be getting more done and thus be more productive, right? But constantly working like a madwoman without a moment’s rest does not necessarily result in productivity. In fact, it can have the opposite effect.

Take my week, for example. Sure, it may sound like I got a hell of a lot done. But how many of those things did I get done well? The birthday gift miraculously came together at the last minute, but I’ll admit that my work project could have used a bit more focus and I definitely could have spent another couple hours on my school assignment. Moving house turned into more like stuffing everything in a room and I may or may not be allowed on my flight to Bali because I have no empty pages in my passport (fingers crossed!).

So if being busy doesn’t necessarily mean being productive, why do we end up jam-packing our days with shit to do?

Staying busy feels like we’re getting a lot done. At the end of a long day we feel like we deserve to kick back with a cold beer and a movie. But have you ever had those days where you felt like you were constantly doing something, but never getting anything done? How annoying is that? So what can we do to be less busy, but more productive? Here are some tips:

Focus on your priorities

Shortening your to-do list may feel like automatically giving up on being productive, but it actually helps you get more done. Tim Ferriss, the productivity guru, suggests choosing 2 to 3 high priority items to focus on each day. When you narrow your focus you keep yourself from getting sidetracked by trivial tasks. Even if that means you only get those three things done, you’ll feel more productive than getting 10 things halfway done. Prioritizing forces you to choose what is most important at the beginning of the day, giving you perspective throughout the day to avoid staying busy, just for the sake of it.

Related: How to Get Shit Done Even When Your Really Don’t Feel Like It

Be realistic in your commitments

It may feel empowering to say “yes” to a bunch of projects and activities, but the stress of overcommitting will eventually catch up with you. Those who you’ve committed to will notice your work suffering. Spreading yourself too thin results in performing poorly in other aspects of your life. This can lead to problems in your career or with family and friends. Sometimes it’s unavoidable and you end up having a million things on your to-do list one week. Be honest with those you’ve committed to and see where you may have some extra time. Turning things in late is often better than turning them in half-assed.

Related: 4 Ways Multitasking is Killing Your Productivity
Why "Busy" Isn't the Same Thing as "Productive" (And What to Do About It) | Bloggers + Freelancers, do you find that you're always BUSY with a million things to do, but you end up feeling overwhelmed and unproductive because of it? Here are some tips on how to combat it!

Take time off

Forcing yourself to be busy to the point of stressing yourself out is not only detrimental to your work, but your mental and physical health as well. Stress has been linked to health problems like heart disease and memory impairment — scary stuff! Even if you don’t feel stressed, staying busy round the clock forces you to neglect taking time for yourself. Think about the last time you pulled an all-nighter. How how much did you get done the next day? Missing out on sleep and exercise means your brain and your body aren’t working at full capacity. Taking a mid afternoon nap, a day off or even a vacation may feel selfish, but they’ll certainly help your productivity in the long run.

Try meditation

A lot of people (often those who have never tried meditation) tend to rule it out as something only head-scarf wearing hippies might do in a drum circle. Either that, or it just sounds downright boring. Why would I sit still for 10 minutes when I could be knocking something off my to do list?! But with apps like Headspace, meditation has started to enter the mainstream. And for good reason: it works. If you feel like you’re spending your days rushing around without getting anything done, try incorporating ten minutes of meditation into your routine in order to center your mind and put you in a more focused and productive state.

Related: The One-Minute Rule: How to Declutter Your Life in 60 Seconds

What are your strategies for staying productive when you have a zillion things to do?

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