busy productive
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Lisa Dyson, Vice President and Senior Strategist
May 29 2019

Busy vs. Productive

Three Tips to Keep You Performing Without Losing Your Mind

There seems to be an unspoken badge of honor associated with being busy. When asked how work is going, often the response is something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m crazy busy right now” or, “This is our busy season, so it’s kinda bananas” or only “BUSY.” To which the individual who posed the question will often reply, “Great to hear, busy is good.” However, is it? Is merely being busy a sign of accomplishment or somehow job security? 

Busy, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “engaged in action” or “being in use.” That makes me think of a constant state of motion with zero rest. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds exhausting. A 2016 Fast Company article about busyness and the brain says this; “Since an overly busy life is so often linked to stress, the result of not having enough downtime could release hormonal chemical cortisol that temporarily shuts down our digestive and immune systems. This could stop us from performing at maximum potential, keeping our bodies in a constant ‘fight-or-flight’ mode.” Yikes! So maybe busy is not good?

However, this is real life, and we have work and kids and pets and friends, and how could one not be continuously engaged in action? Is there any way around this cortisol-creating way of life? I believe there is. The benefit of productivity is accomplished goals and tasks, and the opportunity to enjoy some downtime. Here are three tips to help you cut the busy and become more productive.

Make a List

There are two types of people in the world; the listers, and the non-listers. Here’s some tough love- if you’re not a lister you should be. Our brains are bombarded with millions of messages each day. If you do not write down items that need to be accomplished, those thoughts will flitter away with the wind. Losing track of what needs to be done only creates more busyness when that one thing is eventually remembered. Instead of it being a manageable task, it has now ballooned into a massive operation with a tight timeline to finish. Don’t set yourself up for this; write it down or type it up, do it!


OK, so making a list alone does no good if everything you write has equal importance. Take a look at what you have written and move the items that you need to accomplish first at the top (you can also color code or star them). Put the things that have a longer timeline below that, and the ones that you’d like to do, but it’s OK if it hangs out and collects dust for a bit, at the bottom. Now, start at the top and work your way down. Some of those deprioritized items will hang out at the bottom for days or weeks, and that’s OK! The important thing is that they have not fallen off your radar and you’re still aware they exist. So, here’s the FUN part, once you have completed an action item, make sure to move it from your to-do list to your Ta-Da list! There is something to be said for looking at your list with strikes through the items that have been completed. You are on your way to being productive, my friend!

Say No or Ask for Help

This last one is the hardest. Most people who are busy are that way because they are not lazy. They take additional tasks on and desire to make the most of their time. These same folks who take on too many jobs are (generally speaking) the same people who do not like to say no or ask for help. This can lead to excessive busyness and eventually burn-out. My advice is to take a look at your list when asked to take on a new project or task. Assess your priorities and see where you’re not the best person to tackle the job, or if others can come alongside you to work toward the goal. While this may take some pride-swallowing, it will make you more productive at the end of the day.

While these tips might not be earth-shattering, if put into practice, they will work. If you’re struggling and feel like there is never enough time to do the things you love to do, give this a try for a week and let me know your thoughts. That is, if following up is on your to-do list, of course!

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