Busy Versus Productive

We’ve all been there. You are on your commute back home after a hectic workday and you begin to reflect on what you accomplished during those hours in the office.

There were a number of meetings you attended… several back to back… and you were always running just a little behind schedule.

Lunch was inhaled at your desk while you half listened to a conference call during your lunch “hour.”

You can recall at least six voice mails you didn’t return and who knows what your email inbox looks like! You forgot to check before shutting your computer down for the day.


But what did you accomplish?


That’s when the panic starts to kick in. You come to the realization you’re already behind schedule for tomorrow!

You didn’t truly accomplish anything today. You ran around from meeting to meeting, half processing information as you were still thinking about the prior meeting.

You were busy today.

So let’s define “busy”:

Definition of busy

1: engaged in action : occupied

2: full of activity : bustling

3: foolishly or intrusively active

4: full of distracting detail a busy design


Now let’s define “productive”:

Definition of productive

1: having the quality or power of producing

2: effective in bringing about

3: yielding results, benefits, or profits


Think about those words.


Busy leaves you exhausted. By being “engaged in action” you are running from meeting to meeting, eating lunch at your desk to catch up on emails and calls, checking your email on your phone or tablet in your next meeting rather than being engaged in the moment.

But productive… you have the power of producing, the effect of bringing about. You are yielding results… benefits… profit!

Busy is reading through emails you are cc’d on to see what truly requires your attention. Productive is working with a team to drive a project to completion.

Busy is running from meeting to meeting, arriving minutes late and checking your phone the entire meeting to make sure you get to the next one on time. Productive is taking the time to review the meeting agenda and intended outcomes, allowing you to participate in the decision making or sending a proxy to collect the information you need for your department’s tasks.

So how do you go from busy to productive? Here are four tried and true suggestions:

  1. Block time – You block time on your calendar for doctors’ appointments, one on one’s with your supervisor, days off, etc. Block yourself 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at the end of the day. Guard these like gold. Do not waiver on this time. The morning gives you a window to set your sites on the day. The afternoon/evening slot gives you a window to reflect on the day’s accomplishments and set up the next day for success.
  2. Filter email – Many offices could reduce their email server needs by eliminating the “cc” or “carbon copy” option on email. Set up a filter in your email program to move messages you are “cc’d” on to a folder you call “carbon copy.” Review these at your leisure. Chances are these are items someone is copying you on in hopes it spurs the recipient into action, it’s company news you’ve already heard from your manager or it’s company wide updates about cookies in the break room that afternoon. Stay focused on your inbox messages. When you are caught up there, wade into the “carbon copy” folder, but set yourself a time limit before you are forced to return to the real world.
  3. Meaningful meetings – Start scheduling your meetings with an agenda, an attendee list and a desired outcome. Ask others to do the same. If it is not supplied, decline the meeting. When the call comes asking about your attendance, ask for the details. Make this common practice in your organization and you’ll be amazed at how more productive your meetings become… and how many meetings become emails.
  4. Three Thing Task List – Note three things you need to accomplish each day, even if it just moving a larger project forward. Write them down in a notebook or journal. Put them in a task list on your computer, phone or tablet. Jot them down on sticky notes. Whatever the medium, the important part is to hold yourself accountable to complete those three key items each day. Do this for two straight weeks and watch it become habit… then smile knowing you just took 30 items off your to do list.


Now go enjoy your commute home while and bask in that feeling of productivity!


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