Busy vs productive — which are you? (2023)

Monday. You wake up and eat a nutritious spread complete with coffee, eggs, yogurt, and fresh fruit. You have meetings back-to-back-to-back until almost noon, and at each one, you're asked to complete an action item or a follow up. Your afternoon flies by as you move from task to task, surprised when 5 PM comes and it's time to call it a day. You still have more you could do, so you think about doing a bit more work after dinner.

Tuesday. You wake up, eat a quick piece of toast, and settle in to work from home. You have a morning meeting, but after looking at the agenda, you realize you can delegate it to another colleague, which frees up your morning for some serious deep work. By lunchtime, you've completed several steps toward a long-term goal. After a break, you dive back into work. Your previously calendar blocked your afternoon, so you finish a series of tasks, then spend the last part of the day making a plan for tomorrow's workload. You're done before 5 PM and spend the end of the day relaxing.

One of these days was productive. The other was just busy. Can you guess which was which?

When it comes to busy vs productive days, there can be a lot of similarities. In fact, it's sometimes very hard to tell the difference between the two (and you can be productive while being busy, which can make things even more confusing).

But busy days that aren't productive? Those don't help you make progress toward your goals or get things done. That's why it's so important to know the difference between being busy and being productive — and how to change your habits so you can be productive whether you're busy or not.

Read on to learn about the differences between being busy vs productive — and at we'll reveal which of the above days was which, and why.

Busy vs productive: what do they each mean?

In our always-on world, there's a lot of pressure to be (and look) busy at all times. But many people move frantically from task to task, never making any real progress. They're busy, but they aren't productive.

Busy vs productive — which are you? (1)

Being productive is less about always having something to do, and more about making sure that what you're doing is propelling you toward a goal. Busy people stay busy for the sake of it. Productive people work with purpose and intent.

How to go from busy to productive

Since being productive is all about being more intentional with your time, one of the best ways to go from busy to productive is to learn to prioritize the tasks on your to-do list. For this, a prioritization framework can really help.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said, "What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important." That's the basis for the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, an extremely popular prioritization tool.

(Video) Are you BUSY vs PRODUCTIVE? Learn the Key Differences!

For this, create four boxes on two axes — one going from important to not important, and the other going from urgent to not urgent. Here's a template you can use:

Busy vs productive — which are you? (2)

This gives you four boxes where you can list your tasks:

  • Urgent and important. These are tasks you should do right away. They help you work toward goals, and they're time-sensitive.
  • Example: Completing a report that's due at the end of the week and is necessary for a large work project to move forward.
  • Not urgent, but important. These are tasks that will help you work toward goals, but that don't have a deadline attached. Work on these once your urgent and important tasks are finished.
  • Example: Doing deep work or research on a major project that's impactful, but doesn't have an exact deadline.
  • Urgent, but not important. This is where most people spend most of their time. These tasks should be delegated to someone else, or eliminated entirely.
  • Example: Answering emails and phone calls, checking social media notifications, responding to coworkers who stop by your desk.
  • Not urgent or important. These are tasks that should be removed from your to-do list. They don't contribute to any larger goals and they aren't time sensitive. Strike them off the list and move on.
  • Example: Uploading photos to social media, or calling a friend to catch up.

Most people spend most of their time in the third quadrant of the Eisenhower Matrix: doing tasks that are urgent, but not important. The goal of using the matrix is to become more aware of the impact of all your tasks, and spend more time in the first two quadrants, always doing work that's important, and prioritizing it according to its urgency.

The RICE Scoring Model

The RICE Scoring Model was developed by product managers to help prioritize product and feature launches. But it can be adapted and used by anyone as a prioritization tool.

Calculating the RICE score of an action or task looks like this:

Busy vs productive — which are you? (3)

The reach, impact, confidence, and effort are each assigned a score from one to 10. A good way to assign the score is to start by asking yourself whether it should be low (1-3), medium (4-6), or high (7-10).

A high RICE Score likely means that a project or task is an impactful one, helping you work toward larger, long-term goals.

Here's how to evaluate a project using the RICE Scoring Model:

Reach Impact Confidence Effort
How many people will be affected by this project or task, and in what amount of time? How much will this project or task impact you and others? How confident are you in the Reach and Impact scores you've chosen? Can you back them up with any data? How much time, effort, and investment will it take to complete this task or project?
Example: You're tasked with overhauling a workflow in your department. This will affect the entire department in both the short- and long-term. Reach score is 9 out of 10. Example: The new workflow will impact how everyone in the department does their day-to-day tasks, and will help them be more efficient. Impact score is 8 out of 10. Example: Departmental data shows that the old workflow isn't working. You have studies that show your new workflow is an industry best practice. Your Reach and Impact scores are high, and so is your Confidence: 9 out of 10. Example: Overhauling a department workflow will take several months of research and implementation, plus added investment to retrain everyone in the department. The Effort score is medium to high, say, 7 out of 10.

When we put the numbers from the above example into the RICE Score equation, we get:

Busy vs productive — which are you? (4)

That high RICE Score tells you that your project, in this case changing an entire department's workflow, will take a lot of work, but is important and impactful.

(Video) BUSY PEOPLE vs PRODUCTIVE PEOPLE - The Real Difference

6 signs you're just busy (and how to fix them)

Prioritization is just one step to becoming productive instead of just busy. But because the lines can be so blurred — many productive people are actually busy! — here's how to tell if it's time to start reframing your to-do list so you can move away from busy work.

Busy people don't have goals

Busy people tend to work on things just for the sake of working on them — without working toward a larger goal. To be as productive as possible, as many tasks as possible should be helping you move closer to a goal. In fact, the most productive people set long-term goals, and then break those down into smaller, short-term goals they can work toward on a daily basis. Learn more about this extremely productive practice by learning how to set (and achieve) high quality goals.

Busy people have many priorities

Another hallmark of an unproductively busy person is that they'll have too many priorities. The prioritization frameworks we shared earlier in this article should help you narrow down your tasks and projects so you can focus on just one (or, at most, a handful) important priority. Then, you can work productively so that all your efforts support that priority.

Busy people, on the other hand, tend to treat everything on their to-do list like an important priority. This divides their focus — and their impact — so that although they spend a lot of time working, they make little progress toward any end goal.

Busy people multitask

Multitasking is another hallmark of a busy, unproductive person. Busy people have trouble focusing on one thing at a time, instead trying to tackle their entire to-do list as quickly as possible.

Numerous scientific studies have shown that multitasking — attempting 2 or more tasks at once, switching rapidly between tasks, or performing multiple tasks in rapid succession — is terrible for productivity. The human mind simply isn't made to be able to give focused attention to more than one thing at a time.

That's why focus is the key to changing this busy habit into productivity. Instead of multitasking, productive people first prioritize, and then focus on their most important and urgent tasks. They give their undivided attention to one task at a time, starting with their highest priority work. This helps ensure that important work gets completed in a timely, high quality fashion.

Busy people say "yes" quickly and often

A busy person is often one who assists a lot of other people (and wears that helpfulness as a badge of honor). It's always great to lend a hand to a colleague at work, but it may hurt your productivity.

Busy people often struggle with saying "yes" to everything. They're eager to jump in, excited to help. Productive people, on the other hand, know how to say no to unimportant tasks so they can prioritize what matters. They also know how to delegate urgent-yet-unimportant tasks to others so they can focus on their bigger goals.

Busy people run out of time

A big piece of the productivity puzzle is time management. Busy people may feel like they have less time in the day, but the truth is that they tend to waste time, rather than maximize their productivity. Procrastination is often a problem for busy people — even if they're constantly working, they tend to put off harder, more important work in favor of unimportant tasks.

(Video) Busy People vs. Productive People

One great tool for time management is calendar blocking, which encourages you to schedule every part of your day (even outside of work hours, like chores and free time). This allows you to set aside time for every important task, goal, and priority. It also helps you go into your day knowing exactly what you're doing (and when), which helps limit distractions. Which brings us to the final trait that keeps busy people from becoming productive…

Busy people get distracted

Busy people give in to distractions, while productive people minimize them.

There's no way to eliminate distractions from our lives (or our workplaces). There will always be noises coming from the next office over, pets and family members demanding our attention, and notifications — from our phones, social media, email, and more — constantly coming in.

Productive people focus not on eliminating distractions, an impossible task. Instead, they work toward minimizing the impact of distractions on their lives and work. They design their environment to promote focus and deep work. They use apps and tools to help them reach — and maintain — a flow state. They use Superhuman to reduce inbox clutter and cut down on notifications.

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Busy vs productive — which are you? (5) Busy vs productive — which are you? (6)

(Video) Busy vs. Productive: Which One are You?

Being productive > being busy

Ready to revisit the two workdays we described at the beginning of this article? After reading this far, you probably already know which day was productive, and which one was just busy.

On Monday, you:

  • Ate a high-quality, nutritious breakfast.
  • Spent hours in meetings where you said yes to a lot of surprise tasks.
  • Spent the afternoon multitasking and task-switching.
  • Worked late and still didn't get everything on your to-do list done.

On Monday, you were busy, but not productive.

On Tuesday, you:

  • Could have had a better breakfast.
  • Delegated a meeting you didn't actually need to attend.
  • Created time for deep work.
  • Calendar blocked your afternoon to ensure you could complete several tasks.
  • Finished the workday early.

Tuesday was both busy and productive.

High-achievers, entrepreneurs, and other successful people know that being productive means getting more done and making more of an impact. Now, make sure you have the right tools to maximize your own productivity.

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(Video) Too busy for productivity | Carlin Daharsh | TEDxYouth@Lincoln

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Busy vs productive — which are you? (7) Busy vs productive — which are you? (8)


Are you busy or are you productive? ›

Being productive is less about always having something to do, and more about making sure that what you're doing is propelling you toward a goal. Busy people stay busy for the sake of it. Productive people work with purpose and intent.

What is productive versus busy? ›

Busy people multitask. Productive people focus on a single task. As mentioned at the beginning, effective working people differed from busy people primarily in that busy people multitask and cannot focus on one task. Whereas productivity occurs when you focus on a single and devote yourself fully to that task.

How can I be productive instead of busy? ›

How to stop being busy and start being productive
  1. Prioritize your tasks. If we are fully honest with ourselves, we could admit that there will always be something that needs to be done. ...
  2. Organize your calendar. ...
  3. Stop spending time on your email. ...
  4. Change your perspective on busyness. ...
  5. Final thoughts.
Feb 24, 2020

What does focus on being productive instead of being busy mean? ›

Being productive means you are getting quality work done that helps you get closer to reaching goals or finishing important tasks. Being busy just means you are not allowing yourself much free time because you are constantly trying to work on too many things whether they are productive or not.

How do you answer the question how productive are you? ›

State why you see being productive as important and why you believe it increases your level of hard work. You can also say that you value small accomplishments in your life so when you strive to keep yourself busy, you are actually completing tasks for a day.

How do you answer the question how busy are you? ›

Usually the answer is "not too busy, what's going on".

How do you describe a productive person? ›

The most productive people are great problem-solvers. They come up with innovative solutions and accomplish work more efficiently. They also tend to anticipate roadblocks and begin working on solutions in advance, and so avoid some of the problems that other people run into.

What are the 4 types of productive people? ›

Here are the four types of productivity personalities and productivity styles, according to Tate.
  • “The Prioritizer”
  • “The Planner”
  • “The Arranger”
  • “The Visualizer”
  • Take a work style assessment.
  • Sign up for Crystal Knows.
  • Review your productivity dashboard.
Jan 14, 2020

When can you say you are productive? ›

If you're productive, that means you do a lot — you create or produce large amounts of something. A productive worker makes more widgets than the shirker who keeps sneaking out to gossip and drink coffee.

Who said focus on being productive instead of busy? ›

Quote by Tim Ferriss: “Focus on being productive instead of busy.”

Is being productive or being busy a way of procrastination? ›

Productive procrastination (also known as structured procrastination) involves doing beneficial things while delaying doing more important things. For example, a student engages in productive procrastination when they work on a school assignment as a way to postpone studying for a much more important upcoming exam.

Why is being busy not a good thing? ›

Being overly busy and exhausted may lead to an increase in stress and/or decreased self-esteem. This may trigger more serious mental health disorders including anxiety disorders, depression, and substance use disorders.

Am I being productive or just active? ›

Am I inventing things to do, to avoid the important? Focus on demonstrating results instead of showing dedication.”

What is the key factor in being productive that makes your work more than just busywork? ›

Prioritize your most important tasks

When it comes to productivity, less is more. It's all about knowing how to prioritize and saying no to what's urgent but not important.

Why being productive starts with doing nothing? ›

One secret to achieving more: Finding time to do nothing. In our efforts to squeeze every second from the day, it seems counterintuitive to watch a pot of coffee boil or gaze out the window. But your brain uses those free periods for important cleanup work, neuroscience research indicates.

What makes me productive at work? ›

It can be helpful to take short breaks, move around, switch locations, put on some music, meditate and eat lunch with your co-workers. Create daily goals and to-do lists to prioritize and delegate your tasks efficiently. This article is for anyone looking to improve their workplace productivity.

What makes you most productive? ›

Focus on making small, incremental changes to see what works – and what doesn't. Time management – A series of skills focused on helping you make the most of your time. In order to be productive, time spent on activities must also generate results. Check out some time management strategies to see what can help you.

What is the best reply to I am busy right now? ›

"Take your time" is a common reply. Simply saying, "No problem. I'm not in a rush/hurry." would be fine, or "I can wait," would convey the same thing.

How do you respond to what are you busy with text? ›

How to Respond when a Girl Says She Is Busy: 11 Ways to Reply
  1. 1 Brush it off casually.
  2. 2 Wish her a good day.
  3. 3 Mention when you're free.
  4. 4 Ask her what she's up to.
  5. 5 Try playfully teasing her.
  6. 6 Leave her alone while she's busy.
  7. 7 Give her space to reach out.
  8. 8 Ask her out again in a few days.

What are the 6 characteristics of productive people? ›

6 Traits of Highly Productive People
  • They plan their time. To be as productive as possible, planning is essential. ...
  • They set clear goals. ...
  • They prioritize tasks. ...
  • They collaborate with others. ...
  • They watch out for productivity barriers. ...
  • They don't let procrastination take over.
Dec 26, 2022

What does it mean if someone calls you productive? ›

(prədʌktɪv ) adjective. Someone or something that is productive produces or does a lot for the amount of resources used.

What are 3 productive behaviors you have? ›

Examples of productive behaviors are minimizing distractions, setting priorities, doing one task at a time, managing time well, being creative and innovative, and collaborating with teammates.

What do productive people do everyday? ›

They maximize down time.

However, productive people spend their down time wisely. Instead of vegging out and watching a show on Netflix during their break, they'll spend that time reading, meditating, or learning something new. Personally, every afternoon I go for walk and listen to a podcast.

How much productivity is enough? ›

What is a good productivity percentage? A good productivity percentage is somewhere between 70-75%. This means that employees spend 70% or more of their time working, and 25% or less of their time taking breaks. This allows for maximum profit without risking burnout, or a poor work-life balance.

Are you supposed to be productive everyday? ›

It's perfectly okay not to be productive every minute of the day or even every day. The pressure to be productive during the pandemic can also be heightened by social media. Many individuals may need to stay productive to avoid their feelings of anxiety and uncertainty about the future.

How many hours are you actually productive? ›

The ideal work hours per day for a human to be productive are 3-4 hours. For most people, the actual work hours are 2-3 hours, with 6 hours being the maximum productive hours in a day. You'll be most productive for 2-3 hours daily if you do mentally draining jobs.

Who said doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing? ›

Doing nothing quotes doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing. lao tzu quotes | Lao tzu, Lao tzu quotes, Picture quotes.

Who said don't get so busy making a living? ›

Dolly Parton on Twitter: ""Don't get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.

Who said don't confuse activity with productivity? ›

Quote by John Wooden: “Don't mistake activity for achievement. To prod...”

Is staying busy lazy? ›

In his book, Tools Of Titans, Tim Ferriss writes: “Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions”. Each day, there are very few tasks that are 'critically important'.

Why am I only productive under pressure? ›

Why do we prefer working under pressure? Because that sense of urgency kickstarts the ADHD brain. Of course, working under pressure comes with risks: stress, frustration, loss of sleep, chaos of routines and priorities, and less time to get things right.

Why am I more productive when procrastinating? ›

You start worrying when you think about completing a task that you don't want to do. However, when you procrastinate, you boost motivation and calm down as you're not focused on completing the task. Therefore, you save your mental health and it helps to work better.

Why are busy people happier? ›

The key lies in the reason to be busy. So, it is partly true that people who keep themselves busy for the sake of being, are happier. First, not having something to do fills a mind with negative thoughts and worries, which they escape by keeping themselves busy, and therefore, happier.

Why are people pretending to be busy? ›

Often the pantomime of 'mad, crazy, busy' is a tactic under-performers use to prevent anyone from asking them what they're actually doing. Most of us are simply pretending to be busy, in order to mask how completely dispensable we know we are.

Do busy people get more done? ›

Benjamin Franklin once said that "if you want something done, ask a busy person." There's truth to that statement. After all, the busier we are, the better we manage our time. Busy people are able to get more done in a day because they don't waste time.

Why do I feel like I'm not productive enough? ›

Overly Difficult Work or Boredom With Tasks

Sometimes people struggle to stay productive simply because they're bored with the work. They may find it uninteresting or tedious which makes it harder to finish. The same thing can be true with work that is overly difficult or complicated.

What is a busy person like? ›

A Busy Person

The busy person spends all their time doing research, trying to learn all the possibilities, creating long to-do lists, and trying to make things perfect before they start. They can spend days with nothing tangible to show for their time and effort.

How do I keep myself busy and productive? ›

Here are some ideas for you to get through this testing time.
  1. Learn a new skill or pick up an old one. ...
  2. Complete an online course or workshop. ...
  3. Take some time out for self care. ...
  4. Prioritise your mental health. ...
  5. Start a blog or create a business plan. ...
  6. Write a book. ...
  7. Connect with loved ones. ...
  8. Listen to podcasts.
Jan 4, 2022

What are 3 things that a person can do to increase their productivity at work? ›

How to increase your work productivity
  • Focus on one task at a time. ...
  • Take regular breaks. ...
  • Focus on your biggest tasks first. ...
  • Set small objectives. ...
  • Use the two-minute rule. ...
  • Time block your schedule. ...
  • Make meetings more productive. ...
  • Delegate tasks.
Feb 3, 2023

What is the word for busy but not productive? ›

Word of the day is 'spuddle' (17th century): to work ineffectively; to be extremely busy whilst achieving absolutely nothing.

Why do I feel worthless when I'm not productive? ›

This "feeling guilty for not being productive" is actually a type of anxiety. This anxiety is called "time anxiety" and everybody has a little bit of time anxiety in them. It is a manageable anxiety therefore there are steps you can take to cope with it, making life much easier and stress-free for yourself.

Can a lazy person become productive? ›

They don't waste time on unnecessary things and get strict to the point. A lazy employee will always find a way to automate and optimize all the repetitive processes in their jobs. As there is nothing more annoying for a lazy person than a regular monotonous work. Lazy people always try to make life easier.

Can you go from lazy to productive? ›

Thankfully, you can follow these steps in finding meaningful work when you're feeling lazy; Identify what you enjoy doing, at least the aspect of your job that you find fulfilling. Even if it's not eating the frog, getting started on anything can kick motivation into high gear.

Is it correct to say are you busy? ›

Answer: Are you busy is the correct formation. Explanation: Busy word is used in situations where we are preoccupied with something or the other. So, when someone wants to ask you about being preoccupied with some work then most probably he or she will use the sentence "are you busy?" to confirm if you're free or not.

How do you ask someone if they are busy professionally? ›

“Are you free…?” or “Are you available…?” are the most common expressions used to ask someone if they are free or available at a particular time. Likewise, “Does this fit into your schedule?” or “Is your schedule open…?” are two other polite expressions to ask about someone's availability.

How do you ask someone they are busy? ›

What's keeping you busy these days” is a classic example of an open-ended question. As with the question “What brings you here?”, you're not guiding the conversation in a particular direction. Instead, you're giving the other person control of the conversation (which is actually a polite thing to do!).

What is a fancy way of saying you're busy? ›

Some common synonyms of busy are assiduous, diligent, industrious, and sedulous.

Is it rude to tell someone you are busy? ›

Rather than making a positive impression, you're more likely to be seen as inefficient and rude, Baldwin says. It's a common misconception that appearing to be busy — even if you're not — is a signal that you're valuable, whether it's to your boss, your colleagues, your family or your friends.

What counts as being productive? ›

Most people tend to think being productive just means working. For me and many other people, being productive is not limited to just working. My definition of being productive is: Using your free time in a way that either betters yourself or the ones around you.

What is a productive person like? ›

The most productive people are great problem-solvers. They come up with innovative solutions and accomplish work more efficiently. They also tend to anticipate roadblocks and begin working on solutions in advance, and so avoid some of the problems that other people run into.


1. Busy vs Productive Why Being Busy Isn't Always a Good Thing - Project Management Training
2. The Difference Between Being Busy and Productive | Oliver O’Bryan | TEDxLoughboroughU
(TEDx Talks)
3. The Difference Between Being Busy and Being Productive
(John Spencer)
4. Increase your productivity : Busy vs Productive The Download | #19keys
5. Busy vs Productive People - 3 Differences That is Costing You Money
(7 Figure Squad)
6. Are You Productive or Simply Busy? Find Out Now!
(Health and Wellbeing)


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