Being Busy Vs Being Productive – Which One Are You?

Everyone has the same amount of time during the day. However, why does it seem like some people get so much more done than others? I see people around me “working” all day long on tasks, yet some people are classified as “Busy” while others are classified as “Productive.”

This confused me because I don’t believe most people are lazy, I think people are genuinely really trying to get their best work done every single day. But the question kept nagging me, why do we classify some people as “productive” and not others? This led me to dig more into this question.

After reading numerous productivity resources, I found the fundamental answer to productivity is the following:

“Productive People Focus Relentlessly on Their Priorities”

This one sentence seems so simple. Yet it can be extremely difficult to achieve in this ever-so distracting world of technology that is constantly pulling our focus and attention away from our priorities. 

In this post, I want to dissect out how busy people versus productive people work. I hope you can use some of these tips to help achieve the most important priorities in your life!

Infograph on Busy vs Productive People

Busy People Prioritize Shallow Tasks, Productive People Prioritize Most Important Tasks

Let’s start by putting priorities into perspective. 

Almost everyone believes they are using the time in their days effectively because every hour, minute, or second is accounted for. 

Let me ask you this question: “What did you accomplish yesterday?”

The most common answers I see are: 

  • “Not much”
  • “I responded to a lot of emails”
  • “I ran errands”
  • “Attended a lot of meetings”
  • “I talked on the phone to people”

How about this follow-up question: “Do you believe your daily accomplishments significantly enrich your life professionally or personally?” Most of the time I get a pause and most people will answer “no.”

Now think about this question: “What projects or tasks, if completed, would significantly enrich your life personally or professionally?”

Think along the lines of these:

  • Doing well on a test
  • Getting into a competitive program
  • Completing a research project
  • Writing a book
  • Starting a business for passive income
  • Starting a passionate hobby
  • Optimizing finance
  • Achieving personal wellness through exercise and diet
  • Improving family life
  • And more!

These are what I consider the Most Important Tasks (MITs) in your life. Productive people prioritize the MITs in their life over all other tasks and deliberately schedule MITs each day. MITs are usually the FIRST thing they complete in the day, not the last.

A productive person can tell themselves each day they accomplished a Most Important Task in their life. Can you currently tell yourself that? If not, let’s figure out ways to do that and truly be productive instead of busy!

Learn how to figure out the 20% of tasks in your life that gives you 80% of the benefits in this post I wrote describing the 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle) in great detail.

Busy People Give Away Their Attention, Productive People Reserve Their Attention

At first glance it may seem that with the amount of technology and information that is so readily at hand, shouldn’t we be more productive than at any other point in history?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Technology has so many benefits of giving us access to limitless information, but it also gives us access to limitless useless information as well. 

Our mind and body when given the option will gravitate towards anything with the least amount of resistance such as tabloids, social media, TV shows, etc.

“The Most Valuable Resource on The Planet is Your Attention.”

The most valuable resource on the planet is actually your attention! Billions of dollars a year are spent figuring out ways to get your attention. The deck is stacked against you and reclaiming your attention is the first step in being productive. 

It is not enough to simply work on a project, you must give your undivided focus and attention to your Most Important Tasks in order to complete them efficiently. Productive people understand the value of their attention and make sure to reserve it and use it effectively. 

Busy People Multitask, Productive People Hyperfocus on a Single Task

Some people think that by doing multiple tasks at once (multitasking), you can complete more. Nothing could be further from the truth. Try reading 3 books at once and see how that goes!

MITs will truly enrich your life and will require a significant amount of time and attention to complete. If it was easy, then you would probably already be done with it right?

Completing MITs will require your full attention and focus. Multitasking divides your attention, making it almost impossible to complete your MITs in a timely manner. 

Dedicate a specific amount of time to complete your few MITs every day without any distractions and you will start accomplishing much more. 

Busy People Constantly do Shallow Tasks, Productive People Batch Shallow Tasks

Shallow tasks consist of tasks such as email, texting, meetings, social media, etc. I found the most common reason people can’t complete their MITs is becasue they simply don’t prioritize their MITs and end up constantly doing shallow tasks throughout the day. They feel they were busy all day because they were continuously performing shallow tasks.  

Many shallow tasks will eventually need to be processed such as work emails but in reality these tasks can usually be processed only once or twice a day.

Productive people prioritize their MITs and schedule/batch shallow tasks around their MITs each day. This is the true secret to having time to completing your MITs each day. 

How Busy versus Productive People Work

Busy People Have Lots of Good Projects, Productive People have a Few Exceptional Projects

You would think that productive people have lot’s of projects going on. But that’s actually not true. Instead of filling their life with lots of projects, they pick out a few that will bring the most meaning to their life and make sure they can complete those. 

Once completed they will sparingly add on other projects that create significant meaning. Productive people are okay giving up okay or good projects to reserve their time and energy for exceptional projects. 

I used to think most incoming opportunities in my life were “once in a lifetime” opportunities. Once I started to get multiple “once in a lifetime” opportunities, I found out that opportunities come up much more than I realized. Productive people wait for the right opportunities and focus adamently on those while ignoring or saying no to other opportunities. 

Busy People say Yes, Productive People say No

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” – Warren Buffet

Early in my career, I was saying yes to almost any opportunity that came my way. It felt like an honor to be asked to be part of a group, team, or community!

I soon realized however that I was overcommitting myself to projects and was getting more stressed out because I couldn’t complete any of them. The worst part was that many of these projects I took on had no significant meaning to my life. 

I started to then cut down on projects to the bare essentials that would have the most impact on my career. I also started to say “No” to most new projects that were offered to me. 

Ironically, as you become more productive, more opportunities will also come your way. It will become even more important for you to feel comfortable saying “No” to most new projects.

Often times, you may feel bad for saying “No” because you don’t want to disappoint someone else. Remember though, if you overcommit to projects you will be doing a disservice to yourself and the other party.

How to respectfully say “No” to a project:

“I sincerely appreciate that you thought of me to be a part of this great project. Unfortunately, my current commitments will not allow me to be an effective member of the group and I certainly do not want to be the reason this project doesn’t work out. If something changes on my end, I will definitely let you know!”  

How I Stay Focused and Complete my Most Important Tasks EACH DAY! – the FOCUS App

Most of my work involves being on the computer and I know it can get extremely distracting with the internet, social media, and apps. Having such easy access to these elements can significantly hinder your productivity in the digital workspace.

As discussed above, having full attention is the essential to being able to complete Most Important Tasks. 

In order to get the most focus on my work, I knew I would have to have an absolute failsafe way to prevent any digital distractions. 

A simple app I use is called FOCUS.

What I love about this app is that it allows you to choose specific website and apps to block on your computer for a specific amount of time. It also has a “hardcore” mode where there is no way of turning it off for a specific amount of time. I even tried to restart my computer and could not take it off of hardcore mode!

You can use the Pomodoro mode if you want to do specific time intervals as well. It is a one-time fee of only $19 and is absolutely worth the price! I made a short video below going over the features as well. This is one of the few apps that has absolutely changed the way I work and focus. 

CLICK HERE to get the FOCUS APP. I do get a small affiliate income if you end up purchasing with no increased cost to you. Trust me, it will help you complete your most important tasks! The best app I’ve seen for under $20 by far.

Never waste time on your Computer again with the FOCUS App

Busy vs Productive Video Summary

Video on Busy vs Productive People

Look for Productive People in your Life

Think about individuals in your life who you would consider highly productive. Have you ever thought to yourself why you think of them in that manner?

It’s not because they answer the most emails or have the most social media followers. The main reason you feel someone is productive is because of the accomplishments they are able to achieve while others are not. 

I can guarantee they were able to get there not by spreading their attention in many places at once but by giving extreme focus on single tasks with the highest priorities. 

Seth Rogan quotes: “you are the average of the closest 5 people in your life.”

Surround yourself with productive people and you will start understanding how to focus and complete some of the most important tasks in your life. 

A Complete System to go From Busy to Productive

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you would like to learn how to go from being a Busy person to a Productive one. I wrote 12 simple steps anyone can use to achieve maximum productivity.

I look forward to being part of your productive and stress-free life!

Also check out my recommended Books on Productivity.

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4 years ago

I personally think I”m lazy, so neither busy nor productive applies 🙂

I actually go in cycles to be honest. I have some weekends where I am incredibly productive and check off everything I want to do and some weekends where I decide recharging my batteries is the most important, and thus a lazy weekend it is.

That Focus app sounds pretty cool. I know I sometimes get distracted when my phone pings with a notification and takes me on a tangent I didn’t intend on going on initially.

Zen Productivity
4 years ago
Reply to  Xrayvsn

Hahaha. I need to add lazy in there as well now. Jk. The focus app was a game changer for me as I have no other option but to work on what is at hand or else I don’t have anything else to do. LOL.

B.C Krygowski
4 years ago

LOVE this post! I couldn’t totally geek out with you for hours over this subject!

Zen Productivity
4 years ago
Reply to  B.C Krygowski

I know right!!! So fun to have fellow productivity geeks in the HOUSE!! Thanks BC.

Katie @ Agape Investing

I think I flip flop between the two. If I’m not doing something “productive” I try to fill my time up with something that is worthwhile. But then after doing that “worthwhile” thing, I come to realize that I was just staying busy. And I definitely say yes to a lot of things.. Haha. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’d like to think that I am a productive person when in reality I tend to just be a busy person.

Zen Productivity
4 years ago

Thanks, Katie for the Comment!! I totally agree I think if we don’t deliberately think about the things we are doing, most of the times we are being busy. Once again, I appreciate the comment.


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