If I asked you, you would likely tell me that your day is busy. That you really don’t have much time to spare and you have a lot on your plate that never seems to get finished.

I get it. That's often my answer, too, whether someone actually asks me… or if I’m just questioning myself.

I AM busy so I’m never going to second guess whether you’re as busy as you say you are. 

Here’s the issue. Are we busy because we’re just doing stuff… or are we busy being productive and getting important stuff done?

Ouch. Not gonna lie. If I’m being totally honest – with you and myself – I’m guilty too often of being busy and not very productive.

Sometimes the busy work is more fun and creative than the productive tasks I know need to be completed. For me, busy work is occasionally a form of creative procrastination, quite useful at times. Unfortunately, other times it’s just me wasting time wanting to look or feel busy in order to avoid tackling some bigger, scarier, and more important project that I know can help me rock my path forward.

What about you?

In any typical week, what’s your ratio between being busy versus productive?

Do you know how to tell the difference?

Busy work looks productive, but it may be a false sense of productivity. Being busy may include activities that don’t lead to income generation, or activities that take time but don’t give a return on the time investment.

Here are some examples of busy work:

  • Reading non-essential emails that don’t pertain to work
  • Browsing through Facebook or other social media
  • Scanning the news headlines and articles to stay relevant
  • Printing material to “read later"
  • Moving materials from one place to another in your office
  • Answering the phone every time it rings or a text pops up
  • Allowing others to interrupt you - no matter what they need

These examples illustrate how we can lose time in an activity that isn’t generating a vital outcome. Being distracted from productive work leads to time slipping away and a sense of overwhelm. Then frustration piles on when we realize how we misused the limited time and energy we had available that day.

Though the tasks may feel important and even unavoidable, you can manage them in better ways.

Here are some tips:

  • Filter emails or screen them by subject before opening.
  • Use an app like the Pomodoro Timer to restrict and manage social media usage.
    • My personal favorite is a simple kitchen timer.
  • Only print material when you know you’ll benefit from the convenience or necessity of having a paper copy.
  • Clean and tidy your office at the end of the day so it is fully functional at the start of business next time.
  • Set office and phone hours and stick to them. You can make this work even if you need lots of flexibility in your day.
  • Use voicemail and close the door when you can to stay focused on productive work.
  • Enlist your family members to identify and set some time and space boundaries, along with some codes for what qualifies as an emergency situation that warrants interrupting you.

Busy and Productive... Or Just Busy?

Busy work is often disguised as productive work, but it doesn’t generate a money-making or vital outcome. In contrast, productive work directly affects sales, growth, or other targets you have set. 

Here are some examples of productive work:

  • Crafting copy for a blog post or new website

  • Writing and sending an email with an offer for your subscribers

  • Setting up a new sales page

  • Meeting with a teammate, accountability partner, or virtual assistant

  • Developing a new program or service and taking steps towards launch

  • Setting up sales calls with interested clients

  • Adding content to a membership site

These activities generate leads or income and are considered productive. These types of activities should be done intentionally each day, prior to non-essential busy work that matters but doesn’t result in income. 

Some admin tasks, like bookkeeping or filing, are necessary. They aren’t productive in the sense they lead to more sales, but they aren’t really non-essential busy work either. Still, as much as possible try to schedule these after one or more truly productive tasks for the day are completed. 

Likewise, learning new skills and updating old ones fall somewhere in between productive and non-essential busy work. They are important to do, as long as you aren’t using them to procrastinate doing more important and timely productive tasks. Like necessary admin tasks, be mindful of when you schedule them into your day. 

Most of the clients I’ve worked with over the years understood the difference between busy work and productive work. Yet few could accurately estimate how much time they actually spent each day on different tasks until they spent a week auditing how they spent their time. 

How well do you think you spend your work time? Do you have some pet busy work tasks that you know eat up more time than you’d like to admit to? Are there productive tasks that you consistently push to the back burner?

Your Turn...

I’d love to know what you think of the issue of busy work versus productive work. Share your take in the comments below. Feel free to offer a tip that’s helped you.

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