Busy vs. Productive: How to Spot the Difference


Think back to the last time you used the word “busy”. Chances are, you don’t have to think back any farther than the last 24 hours — maybe even the last 30 minutes. We’re busy people and tend to celebrate being busy. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with having to-do lists and checking them off, making sure that tasks aren’t falling behind. But are you too busy being busy to really be productive? Have you ever gotten to the end of the day, having finished a lengthy list of tasks, but still felt like you didn’t really accomplish anything? Busy vs. productive — what’s the difference?

Here are a few of our tips for knowing the difference and making sure that you’re focusing your time and energy on the right things at work.

Focus on goals

We all start the day with that list of things we have to get done — sometimes the list is in our head while other times it’s a tangible list. Whether it’s responding to urgent emails, managing deadlines or scheduling meetings, there’s always a list of tasks that can’t fall behind. But in the same way you start your day with a list of tasks, you should also start your day with a list of goals. It only needs to be a short list of realistic goals, but the important thing is that they’re not pushed to the back burner by busy work.

Your goals can be brainstorming new ideas, evaluating progress on business objectives, or simply those things that are on the “when I get around to it” list. If they further your business, improve your productivity, or accomplish business goals, make them a priority by designating time for them just as you do your other tasks.

Find your best time of the day

An important part of designating time for goals is designating the right time for them. Does it take you a while to get going in the morning? Do you start to feel the mid-afternoon energy crash?

Find the time of day when you’re at your best, when you have the most focus and energy, and dedicate that time to focusing on priority projects. Turn off the ringer on your cell phone, ignore your inbox, set your GChat to “away”, and tune out other distractions so that you can work on important goals.

Know when to procrastinate

It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes procrastination is essential to being productive. I’m not talking about putting off tasks — I’m talking about prioritizing the right ones. New to-dos are going to pop up constantly, and although they may seem urgent, take the time to evaluate how important or urgent that task really is. Don’t let less important tasks take you away from more important goals. If you don’t think something needs your immediate attention, put it on the list for later in your day or later in your week. 

Take time to reflect 

Periodically reflecting on what you’ve accomplished is a great way to track your productivity. At the end of the year, most companies reflect on the goals they accomplished that year, and the same can apply to your day, week or month. At the end of the week, take a look at your task and goal lists and see what you accomplished off of each list. This will let you make adjustments where you need to, in order to make sure that nothing important from either list is falling behind.

Which one describes you — busy vs. productive? 

We want to hear from you too. What do you do to make sure that you’re staying productive and not just busy? Tweet us at @trackvia and let us know.