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Being Busy is Not Equal to Being Productive

One thing that always bothers me is when a coworker or friend starts a sentence with “I know you’re busy, but…” I’m never sure if this is a reflection on how I’m acting or how much I’m accomplishing.

Acting busy is easy. You just need to appear stressed out. We all do this. As Seth Godin put it, “All you need to do to feel busy is to try to get two things done at once.” Multitasking is not something our brains are built for. When we try to get two or more things done at once we do all of them poorly and we feel stress. We seem frustrated. And we probably appear very busy to the people around us.

Being productive is something completely different. (To be clear, I’m not talking about 45 step systems that allow you to become a millionaire in a month or do the work of four mere mortals without needing to sleep.) Productivity is based on results and process rather than situation. One of the most productive things I do each afternoon is meditate for 15 minutes. That time spent alone, practicing mindfulness, does more to help me get things done than nearly anything else I do. Single tasking is a close second. Productive people accomplish things but rarely do they seem “busy.”

When you feel busy, take a moment to figure out what you’re doing wrong. Have you scheduled too much? Are your deadlines unreasonable? Do you need to delegate or ask others for help? Are you trying to do two things at once? Do you need to break your current task down into smaller pieces? When is the last time you took a walk?

Being busy doesn’t help you get more done or mean that you’re important. Strive for productivity instead.

Hat tip to Scott H. Young and Seth Godin for the inspiration.

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