Being busy vs being productive

Luna Schrøder
Luna Schrøder

It’s important to acknowledge the difference between "working hard" and "working productively”.

Working a lot and being busy is easy. I'm sure you're very busy right now, too. Yet you are reading this article. Depending on how busy you are, you might even eat a sandwich and walk up and down the office hallway.

Being busy can mean many things. Checking your e-mail inbox every three minutes, checking the weather forecast for the next week, obsessively following the news, preferably with an automatic news ticker, checking every hour whether the prices of flights to your chosen holiday destination have dropped. The list could go on forever.

Being busy can feel like being productive because you are doing something that you think is important at that moment and you want results. Being busy can look like productivity, and it can perhaps even generate productivity, but it is never the same as productivity.

The crucial difference is that it is very easy to fall into an all-encompassing occupation, whereas productivity is hard work. It requires clear thinking, focus and often a strategic approach. With this in mind, here are a few tips for transforming your work day into a truly productive one.

1. Take breaks

One thing we do to fuel our employment but limit productivity is the way we split tasks and divide our time. A crucial point to be productive is to take breaks and recharge your batteries. This will help you refocus when returning to work, even if your break was just for a few minutes. Planning specific tasks and following up with a short break helps to work in a more structured manner and to ensure that you always know what you are working on. You will quickly notice when random busy work sneaks into your routine, as the time slots will be pushed back and you will take your break later than anticipated.

2. Structure your everyday life

How many tabs do you have open in your Internet browser? How many to-do lists are flying around loose on your desk? If there are many in both cases, you run the risk of undermining your own productivity with distractions of various kinds. Clutter, whether material or digital, is linked to all sorts of negative side effects. It can cause inefficient thinking because you are unfocused, reduce personal satisfaction, lead to stress and thereby poor eating habits with long-term effects. These are just a few examples of what chaos, both physically and mentally, can change in your life, and why it is so important to move away from thinking that being busy and working a lot is the same as working productively.

3. Concentrate on one thing at a time

After the first two steps, you have now started to include breaks into your everyday life and to declutter your desk and mind, in order to remove unnecessary distractions. Now it is time to focus on getting one thing done. With that, we truly mean just one single thing.

No matter what it is, be it a project that you've been half-heartedly working on and dragging on without achieving any true progress or a flight that you still haven't booked or the inbox of your email that you've been trying to clean up for a long time. Whatever it is, dedicating a predefined block of time to completing that one task. This will help you approach the task with more determination and a more result-oriented approach. Plus, you have the incentive of focusing on this task, as afterward you get to take a little break and do something you enjoy. Then you can move on to the next topic. You will quickly see how much more you have achieved over the course of the day, just by structuring your work, taking breaks and focusing on specific tasks.

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