Busy vs Productive: How Can You Tell?

November 6, 2018

“We use our gadgets for distraction and entertainment. We use them to avoid work while giving the impression that we’re actually working hard.”
~ Meghan Daum

Some days I ask myself: What did I DO today? I can feel like I did a lot without really doing anything. ARGH.

Busyness vs Productivity

If you’ve read some of my past posts, you know that I’ve been reading and listening to Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. I wrote about how distracted I’ve become and how hard it’s been for me to break free of some of my habits that are not conducive to working in a focused and deep way.

In his book, Newport mentions “busyness as a proxy for productivity.” I know that. I’ve done that.Being engaged in an activity often means I’m just busy. And I look busy to other people. I’m checking email. I’m looking up an actor on IMDB from a show I watched the night before. An hour or more goes by and I haven’t really done anything. I don’t feel productive and I often feel frustrated that I wasted that time.

What Does it Mean to Be Productive?

I read somewhere that actions that produce results over time are productive actions. Those that don’t produce any results are not. But of course, that means defining what “results” means. To help define that for myself, I check in with myself to see what feeling I have after a particular task is completed.

  • Do I feel happy and satisfied?
  • Do I feel relieved and glad that it’s over?
  • Do I feel annoyed that I spent time on it?

When I’ve completed a draft of a story or revised a section, I feel productive, even if I end up tossing it or revising it again. That’s because the time and effort is moving me toward a specific goal or result: a book.

When I’ve finished a call or meeting with a writer for a consultation or sent a critique, I feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment. I’m trusting that something I’ve said or question I’ve asked has got his/her wheels turning in a fun and exciting way. And I always come away thinking about one of my own stories and how I can approach it differently.

Final Thoughts

Some work has to be done regardless. But if I can tie it to a goal or result, I feel better doing it.

I’m finding that the important thing for me is to prioritize the work that is the most meaningful to me and that will bring me great satisfaction. Then I schedule the other stuff around it and minimize “busy work” that neither produces results or enriches my life as a writer (which can include the admin work) and/or a human being (which can be but is not limited to: yoga, meditation, exercise and interacting with wonderful humans.)

I’m also going to try scheduling my days a little more rigidly and see if I can feel more productive. Newport once again advocates this here and author and former agent Nathan Bransford talks about “extreme calendaring,” which sounds similar.

Since it’s already Tuesday, I’m going to use this extreme calendaring method for the next three days and report back next week.

Here’s to productivity—or at least feeling productive. 😉