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  • Shabana Ansari

What is the Difference Between Being Productive and Being Busy?

Updated: Oct 5, 2019


What is the first thing that pops into your head when someone asks, “How are you?”


These days I often catch myself saying, “Busy” instead of my usual, “I am OK, what about you?”


That I’m busy is an understatement – I’ve recently co-founded a publishing company while working full-time for a not-for-profit organization. Between my day job (recruiting and coaching internationally trained newcomers and matching them with local employers) and the work I do after hours for my publishing venture (writing, editing and chasing distributors, printers and booksellers), my plate is rather full.


However, I do realize that there is a difference between being busy and being productive. Very often I end up using all my free time doing things that are not that important to me or to anyone else.

Earlier this year, I had an epiphany while talking to a friend. I was telling her about how I would love to start a publishing company some day and she asked, “Why not now?”


As soon as I replied, “But I just don’t have the time!” I realized that it was an excuse I had been making for a while now.


It struck me that I had been waiting for years to get “enough time” to pursue my dream, and that time never came. I realized then that I had to rethink my priorities and come up with better ways to use my time effectively.


It has taken me a few years, but I have finally understood that if I wait for free time, I would be waiting forever since there will always be a hundred things vying for my attention, both in the personal and professional areas of my life.


Since that day I have been doing these things to stay focused, achieve my goals, and fit in some leisure time in my tightly packed schedule:


1. Knowing what I want and why I want it


When I had an honest chat with myself about what I really wanted, it became so much easier to make a decision about what I was going to spend my time and energy on. Doing what I love doesn’t usually feel like work; but when I feel overwhelmed by my workload, I remind myself why I am doing what I am doing.


2. Eliminating time-wasting tasks


Every few months I take a long, hard look at my personal and professional commitments. The ones that exhaust me or feel like a chore get struck off my schedule. This has meant restricting my grocery shopping to the weekend, volunteering only once a week, and removing social media apps from my phone, among other things. Unless I am honest with myself about how I am spending (or even wasting) my time, I won’t be able to figure out ways to devote that time to achieving my goals.

3. Blocking time but not overbooking


Based on my current and ongoing priorities, I put everything I want to accomplish during the month on my calendar and allocate a block of time for specific tasks several days in advance.

However, I try not to get too enthusiastic and over-book myself. I also set aside time for exercise, household chores, meeting friends, reading or just thinking.


4. Being selective about who I give my time and energy to


I have realized that it is pointless to spend time with people who either minimize me or drag me down with their negativity. So, I actively seek out people who contribute positively to my life and not suck my energy by being disapproving or pessimistic. This not only saves me a lot of time but also does wonders for my mental health.


5. Being accountable to myself


We all have the same number of hours in the day, but why do some people struggle with their goals while others accomplish more in the same amount of time? I think it is all about making better decisions and fewer excuses.


When I pick one thing over another, I try and acknowledge that I have chosen to spend time on a less important task. Instead of saying “I didn’t have time to write my blog,” I admit to myself that I chose to spend that time playing a game on my phone instead. Being honest about getting distracted, or focusing on less important things, helps me use my time a little better and makes me feel less busy.


Hopefully, the next time someone asks how I have been, I will have something better to share with them instead of saying “Busy”. 😊

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Ottawa, ON, Canada

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