Being Busy vs. Being Productive

Just because you're always busy doesn't mean you're productive.

A close up of a clock showing time is important in being productive We all know the feeling.

You’ve spent the whole day running back and forth, responding to emails, completing tasks, attending meetings… but by the end of the day, you realize you’ve accomplished nothing!

Your to-do list has nothing ticked off, your workload is growing, and you ask yourself, am I really being productive?

Here’s the thing: there’s a world of difference between being busy and being productive.

Paul J Meyer said: “Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”

That’s a pretty formal way of putting it.

So here’s a much clearer, plainer way of saying it.

According to Ryan Holiday: “We only have so much energy for our work, for our relationships, for ourselves. A smart person understands this and guards it carefully. Meanwhile, idiots focus on marginal productivity hacks and gains, while they leak out energy each passing day.”

What both Meyer and Holiday are saying is, being busy doesn’t always mean you’re productive.

You could easily be wasting a lot of time on meaningless tasks, or have your time sucked away by distractions and interruptions.

Being productive isn’t just about being busy. It’s about working hard, working efficiently, and focusing on getting the job done.

Getting Things Done

Bill Gates and Paul Allen posing with products of their productivity

My cousin, H. Edward Roberts, the inventor of the world’s first personal computer, the Altair8800, told me a story about the birth of Microsoft that’s stuck with me through the years.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen were nineteen-year-old entrepreneurs who won the exclusive contract to develop the software for the Altair8800.

Here’s how they did it: They set up camp in a bare room, down a lonely hallway. The room consisted solely of concrete floors and a couple of folding chairs and a folding table with computers.

In their isolation, they wrote code around the clock.

When they grew hungry, they ordered cokes and pizza delivered to their sparse quarters. When they became tired, they laid down on the concrete floor behind the chairs.

They kept distractions to a minimum. They worked hard, long hours, they pushed themselves to the limit, and they got it done.

Now they are two of the wealthiest men in the world.

Does that mean you need to keep pushing yourself to the absolute brink every day?

Of course not.

This story is about a specific, very focused and ultimately brief period in their lives, but it’s a time that made the difference and let them to being among the world’s richest, most successful people.

Most successful entrepreneurs and high achievers can point back to times in their lives where they had to go into overdrive, block out distractions so they could make a significant breakthrough.

The truth is, all of us will have times in our lives where we find ourselves facing the need to do something similar to get important things done.

It’s not just working; it’s getting things done.

A coffee pot being twice as productive by filling two mugs at once

Busy vs. Productive—Can You Spot The Difference?

Imagine you’re in your car, on a long journey.

You head out in your car, and push on through long hours, driving, and making excellent time.

There’s just one small problem—you’re heading north when you should be heading south.

I’m sorry to break it to you, but you’re not getting where you want to go—and this is how way too many people go through life.

Even when you are headed in the right direction, if you keep stopping, you’re not getting where you need to be.

You’re going to run out of fuel before you reach your destination… if you ever get near it at all.

If you stop every few exits to get gas, then stop to get something to eat, then stop to use the bathroom, then take a break to clean the bugs off the car window, you’ll never get to where you want to go either.

Even traveling with family makes it hard to stay on schedule because somebody always needs to stop for some reason or another.

These are the kind of distractions we face anytime we want to do anything.

These distractions don’t do us any good at all.

Inefficient time and task management, lack of reliable systems and hundreds of daily distractions and interruptions all slow you down.

The problem with these distractions, interruptions, and inefficient ways of dealing with tasks is that they can make us feel like we’re busy all the time.

You tell yourself you’re working hard, but you can’t figure out why nothing is getting done and why you’re not getting ahead.

Neon sign reading 'Work Harder'

Productivity, Interrupted

There are many reasons why even someone who is working ten, twelve or fourteen hours a day still isn’t getting ahead.

These are just a few of them.


When coworkers, family, and friends are constantly interrupting your work to ask you question after question, how are you going to get anything done?

Interruptions at work can cost you a whopping six hours of productivity every single day.

Imagine what you could achieve if you had an extra six hours just to knuckle down and get things done.

That’s what those interruptions are costing you.


Let me ask you this: Who can get anything done when you’re getting distracted by a little beeping, buzzing, dinging box continually updating you with texts, emails, and social media notifications?

What are you ever going to achieve if you treat every distraction as more important than the job that’s in front of you?

Lack of Systems

There are hundreds of tasks that you do every single day, that if you’re not dealing with them efficiently, will take up too much of your time.

Without a plan, without a system that works for you, those tasks can take over the whole day, and make you feel like you’re super busy when you haven’t actually achieved anything.

It can be easy to mistake running around unfocused for working hard and being productive

Let’s make no mistake–successful people often do work long, hard hours, around the clock, to accomplish big projects and launches.

The difference is, they are working efficiently, productively, with an eye on their goal and a plan to make it happen. They aren’t going to work 24/7 all of the time.

They’ll only do this when it’s necessary.

The rest of the time, they have systems, plans and processes in place to make every day run like clockwork.

But why should you care?

You’ve been doing things this way forever, and it works… kinda.

Well, here’s your problem: The reason this is such a huge issue is, if you don’t work productively, you won’t achieve your goals. I know, that sounds like a no-brainer, right?

But let’s be honest—not working productively is the reason you are always busy but are getting nothing done.

Are You Being Productive Or Working Too Hard?

Here are a few things to look out for, to help you determine whether you’re being productive or just working hard:

  • You are worn out from working all the time, but nothing is checked off your to-do list.
  • You’re exhausted from taking work home, going into the office two hours early, leaving late every night, so that you can actually complete some of your workload.
  • You frequently feel frustrated, angry, and disappointed in yourself.
  • You feel like you’re being pulled in a hundred different directions, and you can’t figure out how to get from point A to point B.

Make Productivity Happen

You’re not the only one who’s been there. You’re not even the only one who’s there right now; this is something we all have to deal with, all the time.

But you can take the right steps today to get out of that space and be a more productive, effective person.

The sooner you realize it, the sooner you can take the right steps to protect yourself and be more productive.

The better you get at finding ways to compartmentalize your time, the faster and better you’re going to get all those critical jobs done.

You’re probably never going to escape stress entirely, but you certainly can minimize it when you create solid plans for managing your time.

This isn’t about avoiding work. It’s about avoiding stress, because the less stressed you are, the better you can concentrate and the more you’re going to get done.

And the faster and more easily you get through your workload, the more time and energy you’re going to have left to take on bigger challenges and finally achieve your dreams, goals, and ambitions.

An organized desk, a vital key in being productive

Plan To Succeed

In my life and business, I don’t mind working hard and putting in the hours, as long as it’s going to be worth it.

But I quickly realized that there were going to be distractions. I looked at those distractions, those things getting in the way of my productivity, as the enemy.

They were destroying my chance at accomplishing something great.

They had to be eliminated.

I understood that I needed a plan to succeed because failing to plan is planning to fail.

When you have important things that need to get done, you absolutely must plan. You make an effort to plan your time and tasks, you give yourself the luxury of uninterrupted time to get the job done.

When you make an effort to plan your time and tasks, you give yourself the luxury of uninterrupted time to get the job done. Click To Tweet

So how do we minimize distractions, get organized, and make sure every minute of the day is productive, rather than just busy?

Figure Out What’s Distracting You

For many, it’s that all-too-important smartphone, with its email notifications, text messages, reminders and phone calls.

There’s an app for everything—reminding you to drink water, reminding you that you are a special person … and distracting you constantly.

Evaluate the things that distract you and see how you can adjust them. Which ones can you eliminate, which ones can you minimize, and which ones can you postpone?

Know your distractions and have a plan for dealing with them.

At least ask yourself, do you need to have the buzzers and bells notifying you every time you get a message, text, email or news updates all day long?

The word 'focus' defined in the dictionarySet Boundaries

If you work in an office with other people, you know how many interruptions you can experience. Someone asking about a trivial task that they could have dealt with themselves, someone else stopping by to chat about their weekend, meetings that could have been emailed.

All these things cause a dramatic drop in productivity, and they can be resolved by setting clear boundaries.

If it means talking to your boss and working remotely some of the time, do it. It could be closing your door, do that. If it means finding a deserted corridor with an empty room with concrete floors, folding chairs, and your laptop, that’s what it takes.

Learn to Prioritize

There’s no escaping emails and messages, or certain types of repetitive tasks, but you can prioritize how to deal with them.

Whether that means only dealing with emails at certain times of day, or only being available for meetings on certain days of the week.

Work out how best to prioritize your work.

Get The Job In Front Of You Done

Race through repetitive tasks. You already know how to do them.

Once they’re complete, don’t think about them any longer!

Don’t allow unfinished business to stack up and create an overwhelming backlog.

Focus until those tasks are done.

Learn To Delegate

You do not have to do everything yourself.

Even if you are a micro-enterprise or a solo entrepreneur, there are things you can delegate, hire someone to do, full-time, part-time or when you need them.

Whether that’s getting someone to handle your accounting, or hiring a babysitter to keep the kids out of your hair.

Delegate the jobs that stand in the way of your productivity to someone else.

Learn To Say “No.”

You don’t have to accept every invitation, every task, every job, every new client opportunity.

Evaluate every single thing for its potential value and, if it isn’t worth your time, just say no. Spend your time doing the things that make you money, help you achieve your goals and bring you success.

Your Downtime Is Sacred—Treat It Accordingly

The only person you are robbing when you skip meals, sleep or time to unwind, just to squeeze in a few more hours of work, is yourself. Now, to be fair, we all need to do this from time to time, but it shouldn’t be your habit.

You cannot be at your best if you wear yourself out. To be productive, you need to be at your best.

Focus on managing your time and priorities so that you achieve your goals. But also give yourself a chance to enjoy your life.

You need to re-energize yourself and look after your own mental, physical and emotional health. If you burn yourself out, you’re just going to suffer even more setbacks.

Unlocking Productivity

If you want to increase your productivity and your quality of life, you need to use the right keys.

Take control and be in charge of your own life.

Don’t let life control you.

You get to choose what to do, rather than allowing others to dictate your time and priorities. The better your productivity and efficiency when you work, the more you get done, but that’s not all you get.

You get more free time that you can use to relax, recover and de-stress . . . or push for even more challenges and success.

Make the decision today that you are done with pursuing the idea of just being busy.

Decide, choose to focus on doing what you need to do to work hard.

Every successful business is a race to the finish line and beyond.

The challenge is to make every minute count so that we are giving ourselves the best chance to achieve great things in our lives.

Here’s my challenge to you:

Write down five things you can do today to be more productive instead of just being busy. I want to know what you do to be productive and reach your goals. Let me know in the comments below.


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