On the Job

Spot the differences between productivity and busyness

Productivity and busyness are often used interchangeably. This is a mistake. When you think about it, you can be busy and still get nothing really done.

Productivity is efficiently using time to change something, whether it be improving a project or taking care of an errand. Efficiency is the key word here, as no one would consider, say, spending an entire day writing a letter efficient.

Busyness is being occupied with a particular activity to the point where it becomes a priority. Spending an entire day writing a letter is busyness, but it wouldn’t be considered productive. Yet, we can say “It was a busy day” and it could be, mistakenly, interpreted as productivity.

The difference matters because productivity requires strategy: What works best, what is most important now, what matters over other tasks and other standards. Busyness prioritizes going forward, whether or not it is the best thing to do right now.

Being productive rather than busy requires stopping, strategizing and consideration before taking action. To be truly productive, you must not be afraid of pausing – and pausing feels like the opposite of being busy. You must let go of the need to feel busy.

One other simple tell: Productivity tends to give energy, while busyness tends to take it away. Getting things accomplished creates momentum as well as confidence, while doing busy work often makes inertia and frustration since it usually doesn’t lead to progress.

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