It’s easy to feel productive when you are really just busy. But busyness and productivity are two different things; a difference that makes a difference in all areas of your life. Here’s how to tell whether you are productive or busy.
Is the work you are doing now the work you were put on Earth to do? Is it your purpose?
There is a difference between being productive and being busy. You can cross dozens of things off your to-do list without actually being productive. The challenge you face is that there is always work that will keep you busy, and mostly that work has nothing to do with your real purpose.
If you spend time being busy, you will never be productive.
Is the work you are doing now meaningful to you and others? Is this work going to have an impact? How would you feel if this work was never done?
Busy work doesn’t make an impact. Taking the long view, there is almost nothing in your inbox that is going to bring meaning to your life, nor is it likely to have a great impact on other people.
There are things that you have to do as routine maintenance. These things need to be done. But if no one—yourself included—is ever going to notice that the work you are doing was never done, you aren’t being productive.
Does the work you are doing now fill you with joy or with dread?
Your real work fills you with joy. You get out of the bed in the morning to do the work you were put here to do. You dread work when it isn’t really productive.
If what you are doing feels more like a punishment than a gift, you are simply busy, and it might necessary for your survival right now. But you are not being productive.
Does the work you are doing move you closer to your longest term goals and ambitions?
Productive work moves you closer to your goals. It has a long-term effect on your overall success. It allows you to build and progress towards some greater outcome over time. When you do productive work, you can look back and see what you’ve accomplished.
Busyness gives you the false feeling of accomplishment by allowing you to check the box or cross something off a list. It’s great to declare “inbox zero,” but no one’s purpose is to clear inboxes. Unless you are a political commentator by profession, the political commentary isn’t your purpose.
If what has your attention doesn’t deserve your attention, you are just keeping busy.
Is the work you are doing work that you blocked off time to complete or are you responding to some external stimulus?
One of the easiest ways to tell if you are doing something productive is whether you blocked time to do it. If what you are doing is going to allow you to generate one of the three major outcomes you need right now, then it is very likely that you are producing.
If what you are doing is responding to some external stimulus then it is likely busy work. It is easy to feel productive when you are in a reactive mode, as you knock down incoming requests. It’s harder to feel productive when you complete small pieces of bigger projects that add up to something significant later.
Not all of your time can be spent being productive. That isn’t necessary. But it is necessary that you use your only finite, completely non-renewable resource well, and that means blocking time for meaningful, purposeful work.