We live in a society that glorifies busyness. We constantly need to be doing something and, thanks to our rapid proliferation of digital devices, we usually are.
We feel guilty, uncomfortable even, when we find ourselves relaxing or in a state of idleness. It’s hard not to, especially when there is always something you could, or should, be doing. And this isn’t a bad thing. We should be active. Working hard is admirable. The problem, though, is that too many of us mistake being busy for being productive.
The truth is, when you’re willing to take an honest assessment of your days, to-do lists and time management, you’ll find that the things keeping you busy often tend to also be the things keeping you from real progress - may that be in your personal or professional life (probably both).
How can you tell the difference between the two?
When you’re busy you are often stressed out. This is not to say the case isn’t the same for when you are actually being productive, but the latter gives you a feeling of accomplishment because you can actually feel, if not see, exactly how the activities you are engaging in are paying off. The gratification, however subtle, that comes with this is one of the major differentiators between busy work and worthwhile-work.
There are many things we do because we assume we have to or are obligated to, especially when it comes to work. Obviously, there are tasks and responsibilities you have in your life that you may not enjoy, but have to do anyway because, well, you want to stay employed. But beyond the required functions of your job, there are many activities we engage in that we tell ourselves are moving us toward where we want to be, though they actually aren’t.
Hustle versus hassle
A large part of your to-do list might be filled with tasks that make you feel better by doing them in the short-run. But if you find yourself clouded with feelings of unfulfillment or like you aren’t making any real strides in your life, chances are it is because you are spending too much time focusing on the wrong things - or, more to the point, working on things that are burning you out rather than fueling you forward.
“Never confuse motion for action.” - Benjamin Franklin
You decide what is important and you do that with how your allocate your time. Working doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making progress - and being busy doesn’t mean you’re being productive. You don’t have to work longer hours to work hard. Arguably, the opposite is true. It’s fair to say, at least in some circumstances, spending too much time working is actually a form of laziness.
It takes energy, attention and a certain degree of skill to appropriately manage your time and ensure your strategy of execution is optimized in a way that most benefits you. But the value is there - and it’s worth investing in.
Power of perception
People sometimes misinterpret the act of being busy. Their actions may mimic someone who is successful. Yes, it’s true that successful people are busy. But they didn’t get to where they are because they are busy. They got there by working hard and being strategic with their time. They don’t work just to work; they work to move forward.
With some people, it is all about perception. They want to feel, and others to view them as being, ultra successful - so they boast about how many hours they worked in a given day or how they they spent the weekend working and running around, never getting a moment to themselves. That’s great, but that doesn’t impress anyone. Confidence is silent; insecurities are loud. Let your results speak for you. A good measurement of how busy you are versus how productive you are, is how often you feel the need to tell other people about your workload.
“You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” - David Allen
Put your ego aside. Don’t let your busyness be an excuse. It’s easy to use being busy as a reason to not start other things we want to do, usually because we fear, once we do, we will fail. But, at the end of the day, it is useful to realize what “being busy” actually is to the other people, responsibilities and ourselves: It is a form of rejection, a polite way of saying, “You’re not as important.”
If being busy makes you feel important - that’s fine. But know that it doesn’t automatically make you successful.