The Single Difference Between ‘Productive’ Work and ‘Busy’ Work

Ryan Fahey
Feb 10, 2018 · 4 min read
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There is being busy and then there is being productive — Do you understand the difference?

With many things in our lives constantly distracting us from being productive, I want to dive into the biggest difference between being busy and being productive and what signs to look for if you are busy but not productive.

In a world where people, organizations and institutions are often confused on what they deliver, being busy typically becomes much easier than to being productive. For example, most research supports that we have about 3–4 excellent working hours in us each day. Beyond that, our quality of work dissipates. I can tell you that this is an example of where theoretical research is right in reality.

I teach physical education about 7–8 hours per day. Every day I tell my team that the classes I have for the first 4–5 hours of the school day get 100% of Ryan. They get a top notch educational opportunity from me in those hours. I feel “on”, I feel alive and I feel that I am the best in the business. Simply put, I am in the “flow” of work.

After those 4–5 hours, I am pretty mediocre, and I feel it.

When I was a school health facilitator, if I facilitated more than a four hour workshop I needed the rest of the day and the following day to recharge the batteries. My best presentations followed my weekends and the absolute best workshops I delivered were 90 minute workshops. They were channeled, precise and full of energy.

In those 4–5 peak hours of your day, I am assuming this is likely very similar for you. If you work a 40 hour work week and believe this is true for you I want to ask you — what are you doing with the other 2–3 hours a day when you are not in your peak state of work?

Are you being busy or being productive?

Are you stuck spending the the rest of your day trying to look busy? To feel busy? To act busy? If you answered yes to any of these, you are doing busy work and not productive work.

What is the real difference between doing busy work and productive work? Many people argue different things. However, the single greatest difference between the two is passion.

Why? Because any work that you do outside of what you are truly passionate about is busy work. If you are passionate about delivering the mail that is productive work, not busy work. If you are passionate about sweeping floors, you are doing productive work.

If you are head of a company and hate your job because the company has recently shifted and you feel you need a change, you are now filling your days with busy work, not productive work.

Productive work should be passionate work.

Productive work can exist without it being passionate work. But it shouldn’t.

Passion and productivity should be the focal point of all your work. If that requires 4–5 hours of your time that is more valuable than spending 8 hours on non productive work which you are not passionate about.

Here are four signs that you are doing busy work rather than productive work:

It “Has” To Be Done

When you feel like your work has to be done yet would rather be doing other, more important work — you are likely just doing busy work. Filing, editing reports and sitting in meetings all are examples of doing busy work. If it feels like it has to be done for you, it is likely busy work.

You Are Not Sure Why You Are Doing It

Why are we having this meeting again? Why do we have to now do our reporting on this new template? Why do we have to change the way we deliver our services? If you are not sure why you are doing the work you are doing it is likely a sign that you are doing busy work, not productive work.

It Distracts You From Using Your Skills On More Meaningful Tasks

If you are stuck doing busy work that doesn’t effectively use your skills, you need to find a way out of this black hole. Nothing screams busy work when the work you are doing is under utilizing your skill set.

It Does Not Fill You

This is pretty clear. If you feel like Fred Flintstone running as fast as you can yet not really getting anywhere fast you are likely in the arena of doing a lot of busy work. Passionate productive work will fill you. Busy work which undermines your skill set, will not fill you.

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The Startup

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Ryan Fahey

Written by

Owner: TCW | 2x Author | Consultant | Wellness Expert | T: @Wellnessrf | Pick up my latest book — #YourBestDecade: https://www.faheyconsulting.org/books

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +718K people. Follow to join our community.

Ryan Fahey

Written by

Owner: TCW | 2x Author | Consultant | Wellness Expert | T: @Wellnessrf | Pick up my latest book — #YourBestDecade: https://www.faheyconsulting.org/books

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +718K people. Follow to join our community.

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