Busy is the Killer of Productivity

Our recent spring break brought this front and center.

Growing up, I watched my dad join vacations and then leave after a day or two to “get back to it”.

Sometimes surrendering to “being” vs “doing” just feels too hard.

This tension often comes down to our relationship with productivity.

I rode this roller coaster on our recent trip to Italy. The highs and lows of leaving my life aren’t nearly as dramatic as they used to be, but they haven’t disappeared, either.

Being away from our responsibilities and rhythms – where we can often create false value – can feel disorienting. No matter where you are.

Our culture likes to confuse us.

It sells us a bill of goods that somewhere along the way we’ve agreed to buy. As a result, we’ve unknowingly made agreements with ourselves that sound like this:

-Accomplishing to do lists = success / productivity

-Living online = value

-Tasks > relationships

-Full calendars = significance

-“Empty” space = lack

It’s the belief that our time is constantly spoken for and our bodies are always in motion (even fingers on a keyboard) and that means we’re valued and successful.

Does it, though?

This reminds me of the famous emperor and his new clothes. (I read this to Grace last week and even though I knew what was coming again! For both of us).

Our culture says busy = productive = important = sought after.

The dictionary description describes it a different way: 

occupied, involved, slaving at, preoccupied with, unavailable, hectic, full, eventful, tiring, overembellished, overdone

“Busy” is describing a lot of leaders right now, who would much rather be associated with “productive”. Busy is making them unfulfilled, frustrated, and lacking the impact and results they really want. 

Someone has to challenge the story that more is better.

The emperor had no clothes and NO ONE was willing to say it. And just because you have a full calendar, does NOT mean you’re productive or frankly, important. If no one else is willing to tell you. 🙂

I have a client who was recently frustrated about the perceived lack of productivity in her life, which mainly meant that she hadn’t managed to complete everything on her overgrown list. 

This client had also learned to hack old stories and to challenge the lies that she’s historically been prone to believe. So she was ultimately willing to listen to truth and reality, which told a completely different story:

The unrealistic list may not have been complete, but this client realized in that moment she had actually done the most productive thing possible at an event the night before. She had served her highest goal of the year in growing her business development efforts by connecting with the ONE person she was hoping to have a conversation with, in addition to meeting with several other contacts.

Those actions, alone, were the essence of productivity for her, once she was willing to examine them more closely.

What about you? What is your definition of productivity? Who are you allowing to define it?

Here’s what the dictionary says about “productive”: inventive, creative, dynamic, energetic, vigorous, USEFUL, EFFECTIVE, constructive, profitable, fruitful, gainful, helpful, rewarding, gratifying, high-yielding

Read that list again. 

Now use it as a filter for your own time. When you look at your calendar, how does that definition of productivity line up? 

Is what’s on your list fruitful? Useful? Profitable? Helpful? 

Or is it simply busy? 

You decide.