top of page

Being Productive vs Being Busy

A couple of years ago we all enjoyed a collective lull from busyness. During the pandemic, between lockdowns and business and school closures, we slipped into a slower, saner pace of life, albeit one rife with a different type of stress.

As the world returns to a semblance of normal, the hectic pace of our schedules has again reared its ugly head. You may find yourself wishing - not for a pandemic - but for the slower pace of life that it afforded.

The good news is that you can unbusy your calendar and your mind. Busyness is a choice in many respects. And an understandable one that people make.

Many societies value the appearance of people being busy and getting things done. But the two are not one and the same. Flying through your day at a dizzying speed and crossing off task items does not equate to effectiveness. Let's take a look at being productive vs being busy and how to do more of the former and less of the latter.

The Big Difference: Being Productive vs. Being Busy

If the difference between being productive vs. being busy were distilled into a single phrase, it would likely be:

Being productive is working smarter 🤓 Being busy is working harder 😓

The need to feel busy is often driven by the surroundings; in particular, a company culture that places an emphasis on workers looking like they are getting a lot done. The desire for busyness can also be sustained by a personal preference for perfectionism. An individual who wants to prove to themselves and others that they can nail each detail of every project is often stressed and busy as a bee.

But working this way flies in the face of real productivity. Rather than feeling rushed and frantic, two characteristics of busyness, a productive person feels at ease and in control. A productive person focuses their energies on excelling or being good at core competencies. A busy person is impelled to be great at everything.

A busy person tends to overthink and over-prepare. A productive person makes a decision and moves on quickly. A busy person eats up every available minute to complete a task, often expanding the amount of time they actually need. A productive person uses only how much time they need, rather than every minute available to them.

Learn More: Five Steps to Help Employees with Time Management Breaking the Busy Cycle and Being Productive in Four Steps If you have identified with the description of a busy person above, have no fear. These four steps can break the fast-turning busy cycle. If you are generally a productive person, congratulations! There are no doubt some tips here that are good reminders of how to remain being productive vs being busy. 1. Think Small Set small goals each day that are realistic to complete. This maintains your focus on completing important duties even while side tracked by busy work. Completing what you set out to do is also a morale lifter. The sense of accomplishment is a much better feeling than having a laundry list of outstanding items at the day’s end.

2. Become a Calendar Wizard Beyond creating daily to-do lists, block out time for tasks in your calendar. This will minimise distractions or requests that pull you away from important tasks. If you are having trouble working within these blocks of time, consider noting what you are doing throughout the day in five minute increments. This includes breaks, water cooler talk, meals, meetings and emails. Logging activity at a minute level can reveal where you are wasting time so you can develop solutions to remediate it. 3. Learn to Say No, Not Now Sometimes we get dragged into the busy trap when co-workers request assistance or have a question. The busy person, often a perfectionist, goes out of their way to answer every ask. But being productive vs being busy means it is okay to say no. In fact, we advocate that you cultivate your ability to say no, in a courteous and respectful way that is. This could be no, not now, I will action this on Monday.

There will be instances when you should not deny a request, such as one coming from a superior or one that is urgent and important. But many times, this is not the case. By saying no, you are showing that you value your own time and how you manage it and are signalling this to others. Saying no also keeps you focused on your day’s objectives. Learn More: Signs Your Team Is Not Successfully Prioritising 4. Say Goodbye to Multi-tasking It is tempting to jump on email while in a virtual meeting. Or, maybe bored with an administrative task like reviewing invoices, you decide to perform research for a project. While multi-tasking can seem like a good use of time, it almost never is. In the effort to get more done, multi-tasking often reduces performance. Any errors resulting from multi-tasking can take longer to correct than if you did it right the first time with your full attention. Maximise your focus on the task at hand by eliminating interruptions. Ensure that your workspace, whether at home or in the office, is distraction free. For deep thinking work, consider moving to a different workspace if your desk is an area that is noisy or prone to interruptions. Be aware of your habits too. Distractions are not always external, but can arise from ourselves. Turn off applications that you tend to waist time on. Avoid the procrastination trap of doing easy tasks first and putting off more important duties. With your mind fully concentrated on each task, you will get more done in a day and achieve being productive vs being busy.


Priority Management is a worldwide training company with 55 offices in 15 countries. We have successfully trained more than two million graduates in Priority workshops. Our programs help companies and people be more effective and manage their workflow in and out of the office by providing tools, processes and discipline. Simply put - A Better Way To Work! Clients range from Fortune 500 companies, small-to-medium businesses and government/military employees.

Click Here to learn more about how Priority can help you and your team Work Smart, develop essential management skills and the competencies to....make life and work better and happier!

This blog has been sourced by Priority Management International and edited by Priority Management London.


bottom of page