Busy vs Productive

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If the pandemic taught me nothing else, it highlighted that many of us are addicted to busyness. When we were forced to slow down and drastically limit our interactions, the novelty wore off quickly. I know for much of the world, the shutdown/stay home orders dramatically affected your income and ability to sustain your households. While many others were deemed essential and had to continue to work despite the unknown and the potential health risks to them and their families. These groups are some of the victims and heroes of the pandemic. We were all affected, but not all to the same extreme.

Because I work in technology, I did not have to miss a day. I can work wherever I have a good internet connection. I was able to work a fairly normal schedule with some adjustments for shared workspaces and times with the rest of the family. I consider myself extremely fortunate. However, as the nicety of being able to rollover and grab my laptop to start my day within minutes with no commute began to wear off, I started to become a bit stir crazy. The forced slowdown impacted me quite negatively. I was BORED and eventually depressed.

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It became harder to connect, even though for the first time, my immediate family and I were in the house together all day, every day. We were given the luxury of time but didn’t know what to do with it. During the summer, I was the only one with a schedule. My husband works for the school district, so he was off, like my son. We couldn’t travel and do the typical things that we would do during the summer. We had each other. We had time, but something was missing for me. I wasn’t busy. I didn’t have the normal hustle and bustle of jumping from one meeting to the next and shuffling here to there. I was still working, but there were no errands, no school activities, no time at the gym. I wasn’t busy. I derived my energy and sense of accomplishment from busy. Without it, I felt lost. I had always been busy, but was I productive? Was all of that scurrying around, producing the results that I wanted out of life? That is a question worth pondering.

What is the difference between busy and productive? They can look very much the same, but what they yield, is quite different. Busy speaks to quantity: the number of hours of your day that are filled with activity. Productive speaks to quality: the value that is gained from the day’s activities. Because I can’t add more hours to the day, it’s important that I’m mindful of what I am doing with those hours. Am I taking care of myself? Am I present for my family? Am I meeting the demands of my career? I can be extremely busy in each of those areas of my life and accomplish absolutely nothing. I can also try and manage all or a combination of the three at once. Multi-tasking was the buzz word for years and considered one of the signs of a capable person. However, when I am multi-tasking, I am not giving my full attention to either task. That doesn’t seem like a productive approach to me either.

I give my best when I am really engaged. Following these steps have made it easier for me to move from being busy to being productive:

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  • Have a plan
    • Either end each day with planning for the next day or plan first thing each morning
    • Determine what are the most important things to accomplish that day
  • Prioritize the plan
    • Rank those items from most to least important
    • Always do the most important thing first, complete that task and do the next most important thing, and repeat!
      • This practice is a procrastination buster. Developing the mindset of doing the most important thing first, removes the inclination to ignore the tasks that we enjoy the least.
  • Protect your time
    • Be committed to your plan
    • When the request to complete other tasks arise, weigh them against your ranked plan. If they’re not more important than the list that you’re working from, it’s an easy no to that request.
    • If they are as or more important than something on your list, make the necessary adjustment and get back to the plan.
    • Plans and priorities change and that’s OK. The important thing is to have a plan so that you can make an informed decision about new requests. This way you remain productive and don’t find yourself simply busy and bouncing from task to task.
  • Take a step back to reflect
    • It’s important to take some time to look at the big picture.
      • Has the goal changed?
      • Are there more efficient ways to get things done?
      • Are you still invested in this goal?
      • Does it really matter to you?
    • It’s easy to make a list and follow it, but if we are not working towards what’s important, we’re moving away from productive and back to busy.

Our time and attention are precious resources. With a little thought, we can ensure that we are using them wisely. I’ve heard it said that busy people get things done. That may be true, but productive people get the right things done!

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2 responses to “Busy vs Productive”

  1. You are motivated and motivational. The pandemic slowed us down to reflect on
    what is really important. Somehow that time being busy fulfilled a void masking pursuit of our purpose. I love the “protect your time”. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Thank you so much for such thoughtful feedback.

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