Why I Choose ‘Productive’ Instead Of ‘Busy’

posted by Andrea | 03/12/2015
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productive instead of busy

In today’s ultra-fast-paced world, I feel that being busy has become something we are striving for — if only to be able to lament the fact that we are “just so busy.”

I know I have personally complained about “being too busy” MANY times in my life — and although I’ve been more conscious of of this over the last year, I still catch myself talking about “being too busy” even though I know that I truthfully am NOT very busy at all.

Part of my non-busyness is due to a shift in priorities since having kids — but also the realization that “busy” is vastly different than “having a full life” or “being productive”. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I REALLY enjoy being “productive”.

I love learning how to use my time efficiently and getting as much done in the shortest amount of time possible — to the point where I’ll often time myself to see how quickly I can do various tasks. Maybe I’m a little odd, but I feel empowered when I know I’m being productive and crossing things off my to-do list.

That said, I DO NOT like being “busy”.

For me, productivity and proper time management implies that I’m doing things that must be done as efficiently as possible. In my life, that would be things like laundry, house cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, my blog and business work, yard work, etc. Those are all necessary tasks for my family to continue living comfortably and for my business to run smoothly.

On the other hand, “busyness” implies that I’m taking on too much, spreading myself too thin, saying “yes” to too many obligations, and creating a whole lot of unnecessary stress. Busyness is a choice to add things, people, and activities to my life that are not necessary and may not even be enjoyable for me at this point in my life

Did you catch the difference there?

Productivity = doing necessary tasks efficiently

Busyness = choosing to take on too many unnecessary tasks and obligations

Before we get too far into this post, I do feel the need to clarify that for some people, “busyness” is NOT always a choice they have the luxury to choose or not to choose. Single parents and low-income families are the first people who come to mind. In many situations, they have no choice but to run themselves ragged trying to work multiple jobs to provide for their family’s basic needs on a daily basis. I do not envy these people, and I feel it’s necessary to acknowledge that for some people, busyness is not their fault or their choosing.

However, for the rest of us (and most likely for the majority of us) busyness is most definitely a choice we make to fill our days too full with too many tasks and obligations that just aren’t necessary. These tasks will look different for every person and every family (and each person has a different tolerance for busyness), but some might include too many extra curricular activities for our children, too many volunteering roles at one time, too many elective committees, too many night and weekend commitments, etc. etc.

None of these activities or commitments are necessarily BAD in and of themselves, but if the results of participating in these activities and commitments are too much busyness and stress in our lives and our families’ lives, then yes, the activities and commitments are BAD FOR US at this point in our life.

I have had MANY years of my life that were extremely “full” and sometimes verging on “too busy” (all by personal choice, of course) but over the past few years, even after adding more children and work responsibilities to the mix, I have continually felt less and less “busy”… all while maintaining a very full and productive life.

I still have a full schedule and several things to cross of my to-do list each day and each week. I definitely don’t sit around with nothing to do during the day, but I have also gotten REALLY good at realizing when something is just “busyness” that I shouldn’t add to my already full days, and then even better at saying no to those people, activities, events, requests, etc.

It’s probably no huge surprise that as a result of these changes I’m happier, I’m less stressed, and I’m doing the things I do better than I’ve done them before.

However, what might come as a surprise is that sometimes, I feel bad for not being busy — like I SHOULD have more on my plate, and I SHOULD take on more commitments and responsibilities, and I SHOULD be doing bigger and better things in both my personal and business lives.

I know how crazy that might sound to some of you, but I also have a feeling many others can relate.

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So often people will ask questions about what activities I do with my kids, what type of outings we go on, what groups we’re involved in, what type of vacations our family takes, what type of work trips or meetings or upcoming projects I’m planning, when I’m going to write a book, when I’m going to start ramping up my speaking engagements again, when I’m going to hire someone so I can grow and expand, etc. etc. etc.

I never have very good or cool or “busy” answers for these questions… because for the most part, we don’t do a lot of extra outings or activities during the day and I’m not working on anything huge or amazing in my business life.

And I’m 100% OK with that! 

Although my life might not be glamorous or super-duper exciting, it’s full of people, things, and activities that I enjoy — and I know that adding much more to the mix will eventually cause the “busyness” that I’ve been trying so hard to avoid!

Now to be clear, there are still times in my life when I feel stressed or anxious or worried… but for the most part, those situations are not caused by self-inflicted busyness.

There are also times in my life when I truly am BUSY because of choices I’ve made to do too much. However, those busy times are often because of conscious choices I’ve made knowing that all the activities are worthwhile and fun and good experiences, so I’ll deal with a super busy and jam-packed day or two to fit everything in.

But I can also tell that we all need a couple really “chill” and relaxed days after those busy days (I think this is often why people say they need a vacation after their vacation!)

Yes, I have many things that are required of me each and every day, but I am NOT busy. 

I spend most of my day feeding and cleaning up after little kids (true story). And when they’re not eating or making some type of mess, we play and read and build forts and make simple crafts.

Then I turn Netflix on for Nora while Simon is taking a nap so I can respond to a few emails and make dinner.

I work when Dave is home and when the kids are sleeping… and if I start feeling like there is too much work to do in those hours, I either figure out a way to become more efficient and productive or I drop something off my plate. Period!

I KNOW it’s a privilege for me to be able to make these choices… but I honestly think that many of us have more wiggle room in our schedule than we realize (I know I did). You might be surprised how many different choices you COULD make to alleviate a bit of that unnecessarily stressful busyness.

Change will not happen overnight, it will not be easy, and people will most likely give you a hard time — I know from first-hand experience! However I also know from experience that saying no to “busy” has been life-changing for me over the past couple of years… and yes, it has drastically simplified my life and my family member’s lives.

I still challenge myself to be as productive and as efficient as I possibly can, doing the tasks I need to (and choose to) do each day… but I continue to say no to so many opportunities that I feel will cause a stressful amount of busyness. Sometimes saying no is really really hard (especially when it’s fun activities or really lucrative business opportunities) but I’ve learned the hard way enough times that I know it’s worth it.

There are still many people in my life who give me a hard time and don’t understand why we turn down various opportunities or say no in certain situations — but I’ve noticed that those same people also complain A LOT about “being too busy” and the fact that “there is never enough time in the day.”

Well, the last time I checked, we all had 24 hours a day to spend as we see fit. I’m just choosing not to pack my hours as full 🙂

Although I still catch myself saying, “I’m too busy to do that” I have been trying really hard not to complain about “being busy” — and more importantly not to let myself get the point where I actually AM too busy.

There is SOOOOO much more I could, should, want to, and probably will say about my thoughts on busyness… but this post is already way too long, so I’ll save thoughts thoughts for another post!

Instead, I’ll leave you with one final thought…

In my opinion, Simple Living meshes well with “productivity”… it does not mesh well with “busy”.

What are your thoughts?

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19 comments

  1. Dawn

    03/14/2015

    When I am busy doing too many things, I am not doing ANY of them well. This year, my one and only overarching goal was to make my relationship with Christ the priority of my day.
    I did this because when I sat down to work on goals for the year, I became overwhelmed with what all I wanted to accomplish. I knew I would get distracted and discouraged if I tried to do it all.

    Since I have been focusing on just the one thing, the most important thing to me, a lot of other things have fallen into place. Home educating my children, making meals, housework, shopping for food, etc, have all been so much easier. With a super large family, those are huge jobs.
    If I had made goals in all the areas I wanted to, I would have made myself crazy. I am certainly not accomplishing everything I would have if I could have achieved all the goals I wanted to set, but I am more at peace, more rested, and not nearly as grumpy. LOL!!

    You will never ever regret spending your time wisely, and focusing on your home and family. Good for you for making the decision to do what you can do well, and not sweating the rest!!

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  2. Dawn

    03/14/2015

    Andrea, I follow your blog and look forward to seeing new posts in my inbox! However, I realize I should give YOU that feedback to let you know how much your posts mean! This one is another “great” that totally hits home and I swear (like so many other followers I’m sure) that we are related. 🙂 I absolutely love your ideas – I started following you because of your t-shirt filing – but I love your attitude, outlook, desire to keep your life simplified (not perfect or easy, just simplified), and your willingness and ability to share that information in such a fun and honest manner. I feel like you create a “friendship” through your posts because they are naturally helpful, fun, and supportive to everyone that’s trying to live a “productive” life! So…thank you! 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Dawn! Such a nice comment and I really appreciate it!

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  3. Vicki

    03/12/2015

    Some women like to brag how busy they are, like a badge of honor. I’ve been asked how I have time to do some of the things I enjoy. Like you said, we all have 24 hours in a day and I insist on spending at least half of mine on hobbies and things I enjoy. If others “Don’t have time” …well that’s their fault.

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  4. Kim

    03/12/2015

    I completely agree. Being productive energizes me. Being busy drains the very life out of me. And I can never understand those people who pride themselves on being “crazy busy,” but keep complaining about how rushed their life is and how they have no time. In most cases, they don’t have to do all the things they are doing, but are choosing to do all those things.

    I recently heard an excellent analogy on this subject. You know the story of how you can keep fitting more things in a jar, first big rocks, then sand, then water? A person I know, who was being badgered into commiting more of his time, was told that he should just “pour water into his jar,” in essence that there were always more cracks of time one could fill. He responded with, ” If you pour water in my jar, I’m going to drown! I can’t breathe under water.” I loved it!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Wow, that’s a great analogy Kim! I’ve seen that message for children sermons at church, but never related it to productivity and time management in the way your friend described. Thanks for that!

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  5. Nayu

    03/12/2015

    Andrea, you had me smiling from the title of this post! I used to be so busy, but I had to cut back as I needed more rest in my days for health reasons. Scaling back was hard, but somehow I now seem to be achieving more in the long term by doing less and lowering my expectations every day. Because I’m determined not to drop any more activities, I’ve had to be creative, find ways to streamline how and when I do my blog post, emails, social media etc, which create more free time for me just by being organised and doing things a bit differently to how I used to.

    I love how you encourage trying things out, which motivates me to do just that. When something doesn’tgive the outcome I’d hoped for, I simply tweak it until it does! 1-3 years ago I was busy and not exactly productive. Now I take life more leisurely and I’m fairly productive! As you and others say, balance is the key.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much 🙂 yes, “balance” and “moderation” are so important in achieving a simple, organized, less-stressed, less-busy life.

    Also, I love that you can admit that even though you were ‘busy’ you weren’t necessarily ‘productive’ — that is SO true for SO many people!

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  6. Charissa

    03/12/2015

    Awesome post, Andrea! There’s been this recent trend I’ve noticed. When describing a woman and her skills/roles, etc (maybe in a blog “about” section or on the back of a book for an author) it will list “busy mom”. Can’t stand that. It’ seems to imply that writing “mom” isn’t enough or that by adding the word “busy” more value is placed on this woman’s role.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I actually was just talking with someone yesterday and they introduced me to another friend as “a busy busy busy mom” and I sort of cringed inside 🙂

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  7. Janice

    03/12/2015

    You’re right, girl! There are many seasons in life and it’s not necessary to try to live them all at one time.

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    Andrea Reply:

    exactly! before kids, I truely enjoyed being much more involved in so many church, school, and community organizations and functions. It’s was “good busyness” and very fun for me.

    Now, those same activities and functions just all feel “pressured” and “overwhelming” now that we need to find child care, be home by a certain time, etc. etc. I’d rather just stay home and not do as much.

    However, I’m thinking (and hoping) that we’ll eventually get to a time when those extra things are fun busyness again 🙂

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    Susan Reply:

    Andrea, this is EXACTLY the realization I am coming to recently, after being a mom for 5 months now! I came to this realization after attending a game night with friends a month ago, a school fundraiser dinner 2 weeks ago, and a church committee meeting on Tuesday. All great things, in my personal opinion. However, all 3 of the paragraphs in your comment are my exact thoughts. 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, it didn’t take long after Nora was born for me to realize I just COULD NOT do everything I did before. Not only that, but I didn’t even WANT to do everything I did before nor did I ENJOY everything I did before kids!

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  8. Bev @ The Make Your Own Zone

    03/12/2015

    This was another great post Andrea! The word that kept popping into my head as I read through it was “balance”. We need times of both productivity and times of rest, and when they fall out of balance we feel too busy. I think you’ve done a great job of being able to adjust the tasks in your life to keep it in balance.

    The other thought I had was I think it’s hard for many people to make the distinction between what is a “necessary” and what is an “unnecessary” task. There are so many things that are fun, or enjoyable, or income producing but that doesn’t always make them “necessary”. You have to really know what you want in your life and what your values and goals are, and then it makes it easier to categorize things as either necessary or unnecessary. Maybe there’s a follow up post idea for you! 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes Bev — great minds think alike 🙂 I was already thinking about that distinction between “necessary” and “unnecessary” tasks when I was writing the post — but I felt like that was getting off on another tangent and making an already very long post even longer!

    I do hope to write a post about this in the future… but I’m still not sure what angle to take since “necessary” will be different for every person and who am I to say what is and is not necessary for everyone…

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  9. Leanne

    03/12/2015

    loved this post! I guard my “free time”…. especially, since I homeschool…. I could take on another dozen tasks through church, or lessons for my kids, or field trips…
    BUT, I cannot live in chaos….
    I do NOT THRIVE their…
    we all have one life to live… God numbers our days…. He gives us different seasons…and for the very blessed, He gives us SOULS to raise… so, when I weigh taking on tasks, or commitments, or another class, lesson, or field trip, I ask myself– will this nourish my soul and will it help in the task of soul raising!!! ?
    many times the answer is NO….
    and then I take a break from Facebook, Pinterest, and whatever other social media that I allow to “pressure” me, and I chat with a friend, another mom, go for a walk, do some shopping… etc……. and remember that I was not made for “busyness”…. I was made to thrive and bless others!!!!
    thanks for sharing this today!!!

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  10. Paulette

    03/12/2015

    Andrea, You know yourself and stay true to what you know! I admire that quality so much. Most of the time, busy, busy times for me are because of my own choices. Sometimes I choose to do certain things because of their importance to me but sometimes it’s based on pressure from others. This post is encouraging!

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  11. Lydia @ Thrifty Frugal Mom

    03/12/2015

    Andrea, I agree with most of what you said and have been thinking lots of similar thoughts. There is a good kind of busy and a bad kind of busy. The good kind leaves you feel weary but blessed. The bad kind leaves you exhausted, frustrated and usually totally overwhelmed too.

    The last 6 months I’ve become very intentional about priorities and not taking on more than I can manage without becoming overwhelmed. Like you, I have many who do not understand and sometimes that makes it hard, but I feel so much happier and my family is so much happier too! Contrary to what we often think, it really is okay to say no and to not do everything.

    Thanks for this great reminder!

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