Busy vs Productive – The Real Difference

busy vs productive

We all have different measures of what a “good day” looks like, but one thing we can all agree on is how great it feels to put our feet up after a particularly busy or productive one. Whether you managed to tick everything off your to-do list, solved an ongoing issue, faced down a hefty challenge, or simply completed a task you’ve been putting off for a while, there are many things which can leave us sitting back at the end of the day feeling accomplished.

But what about those days – we’ve all had them – where you don’t stop for a second… Yet it feels as though you haven’t actually gotten anything done? The list remains unticked and, while you’ve been non-stop, it feels as though it’ll never end.

It’s the busy vs productive conundrum, and it affects us all at some point.

So how do you know which you’re being, and how to ensure you’re achieving the right mix of both?

Working smarter vs harder

A little bit of good, old fashioned real talk here: just because we’re busy, doesn’t mean we’re working hard. The same goes for being productive – sometimes it all just flows and you’ll find yourself getting a lot done with minimal output, or so it seems. If you feel like you’re busy AND working hard but still not being productive, it’s important to take stock and, instead of just continuing what you’re doing, ask yourself: is there a better way?

Being productive instead of just busy is about getting as much done in as little time, or with as little output, as possible. That’s not to say you’ll be doing sloppy work – but instead, smart work.

If you’ve been busy all day but are yet to achieve an awful lot, take a second to breathe and wonder what could be done differently. Is there a better method or process you could implement? Are you being limited by your resources (the people around you, the skills available, the tools you’re using)?

Working smarter could mean investing in your tech stack, starting the search for new talent, or simply going at things from a different angle. All of the above equal smarter, not harder work.

Working focused vs frantic

“Being busy” is sometimes a case of feeling like it’s one thing after another; the tasks just keep on coming. This puts us in a place where we’re being entirely reactive, merely responding to the things coming our way instead of completing the items that really matter.

In short, we become frantic – and things drop off the edge. It’s not ideal.

Now, when we’re actually being productive, we’re working in a focused manner. Focused means being able to prioritise, while adapting the day around what needs to be done vs what should be done, and when. Yes, things are always going to pop up which need your immediate attention. But when you’re able to maintain focus on the must-dos, the rest will follow.

Maintain focus by shutting off distractions, setting a schedule, and letting those around you know all of the above. What should you be contactable for, and when should you be left alone? When will you need their help and input, and what can you complete on your own? If things become frantic, take a step back, regroup. You’ve got this.

Getting things done vs getting things perfect

Finally, of course, comes the age-old dilemma. Does this task need to be done perfectly, or just… Well, done?

Perfectionism is the enemy of productivity, like it or not. Of course, you should always be doing things right. But when that push to get things absolutely perfect becomes detrimental to just getting them completed, it’s time to rethink your approach. If you find yourself having had a hugely busy day working on just one task, which took your entire scope (and worse yet, didn’t even end up being finished), it’s time to ask yourself if perfectionism is a factor. Secondarily, whether it should be or not.

Being busy vs productive is a challenge individuals and organisations have faced since the dawn of time. But, with the pandemic driving many into remote or home-working, it’s taken on an entirely new feel.

What do you do to ensure you’re the right level of both? Let us know.

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