Being busy is not being productive.

It’s common for people to say hello and ask how I’ve been…I flippantly say, “I’ve been busy”, smiling away.

The same thing happens the other way too – but what is “busy”? – if you can’t say specifically what you are doing then there may be a deeper issue to sort out. After all, there’s a major difference between being busy and being productive.

Being busy is about working without any focus. It reminds me of watching a Howie Mandel’s North American Watusi Tour 1986 (standup comedian) comedy special on HBO and he asks random audience members, “What do you do?” to make fun of them in his act. One audience member responds with, “Nothing”. He retorts, “How do you know when you’re finished?”. It stuck with me for over 32 years. It’s no different to when you say you’re “busy”. If you are busy….what does that mean and what will that accomplish? When will you be done?

On the other hand, being productive is working smarter. Having a focus to what you are doing and knowing what you want to accomplish will change the way you think, and this habit will form a new way of responding to this question – “How have you been?”. “I’ve been working on completing this task so that I can accomplish the following which will have this outcome”. Ensure each day you have a goal and work towards accomplishing that goal. If you are running or working in an agile team – the goal and vision around the sprint or iteration are imperative to accomplishing great things and getting something completed for customers or learnings.

  • Being busy is wishy washy – it says nothing and displays someone who doesn’t know how to manage their time.
  • Being productive is focused – it says “I have a purpose and know what needs to be done”.

In the Air Force we would often bring up the old saying “work smarter not harder” when working with our Army counterparts, as we did things very differently. It often had the desired effect and riled them up no end. To be fair the Army knew their job, goal and vision and were in fact working towards that – it was a bit of sibling rivalry and provided a chuckle. Having served in both services – I know working hard gets the job done, but knowing what you are working towards makes working hard worth it.

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