Being busy isn’t the same as being productive

I’m a workaholic.  I love working on projects, securing new gigs and making things happen.  For many years now, I’ve been busy almost every night of the week.

Before, it was going to art events, meeting friends, going out for drinks, and being social. After a while, I realized I was always busy, but I wasn’t really productive.  I had nothing to show for how ‘busy’ I actually was, except for a few good stories.

When I started grad school, I was determined to change this. When making such a big life change as moving across the country and leaving everything behind, I thought it was a good time to assess my priorities and focus on what I really wanted out of my life.  Instead of happy hours, I went to workshops. Instead of hanging out, I wrote. I did plenty of hanging out and went to plenty of happy hours, but the point is my priorities shifted in how I spent my time.

I realized after my last job, that while my work was meaningful, I didn’t do anything for myself. I was productive at my job, but not working on my own goals. After three years of being ‘busy’ and nothing to show for it, I knew I had to change.  Grad school (clearly) came at a price, but it in a lot of ways, it completely changed the way I think about myself, productivity and creativity.

Last year, I read the busy trap, an insightful, telling article published in the NY Times. I felt like I could relate to the people he was describing. One on hand, I’ve been guilty of using the ‘I’m busy’ card more than I’d like, but on the other hand, I’ve felt slighted by friends who never seem to make time.

I can’t help but think and ponder these words:

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day”

That hits the core of it. I know I feel uncomfortable if I am not busy. I wonder who I am, what does my life mean? I have been trying desperately to detach my work from my identity, and realizing what I do, isn’t necessarily who I am. It’s hard in American culture, to make that distinction.

Recently, I have challenged myself to take more time to relax, do nothing and not feel guilty. Last night I came home, and didn’t go on the computer. I thought, I should update my blog, I should tweet, look for jobs, etc. But I didn’t. I worked all weekend, had a crazy interview and was mentally exhausted. So I did nothing. I went to bed early. The guilt was still there, but I am working on it. I am trying to battle the fact that, the world does not end, if you send an email a day later, or blog 2-3x a week instead of 4 or 5x and that life goes on. As it always does.

My life now seems busier, mostly out of survival and a fierce desire to pay off debt as soon as possible. I find myself with only three days off in March and working the rest of the month. Sometimes I get tired and frustrated—I just want a day off! As an hourly, contract employee, that’s not really possible. I could not take extra gigs on the weekend, but that would prevent me from paying off more debt and having a sufficient buffer for my nearing end of employment. I have 6 more paychecks from my job, then who knows? Hustling is a new way of life.

I have to remind myself to not get caught up in the Busy Trap. I make my decisions based on these questions:

Does it make me money?

Does it make me happy?

Does it challenge me?

That’s it. If I get offers that don’t meet one of those requirements, I don’t do it-which is hard for me, because I am codependent. I want to yes to everything and make everyone happy. Getting older has helped me in this area and for now I am focused on paying off debt, living a wonderful life full of creativity and love, and challenging myself.

Have you ever been stuck in the busy trap?

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20 responses to “Being busy isn’t the same as being productive

  1. I can relate to saying yes to things (or rather not being ‘able’ to say no) just to please others. Getting older has definitely played a role in being more selective and being okay with turning down things. It’s given me a lot more work-life balance!

    • Yes, that’s the goal! Work- life balance! Getting older definitely helps with those things….you tend to focus on what’s really important.

    • Thanks 🙂 I’m still caught in it sometimes, I’m just more aware of it. Also, I said above to Anna’s comment, it’s all about balance!

    • I find that scheduling lazy time makes it a lot easier. I know it’s difficult and sounds kind of lame, but if you say, Wednesday is my day to be lazy and do nothing, you are more likely to stick to it. It’s just as important/necessary as scheduling those awesome other plans too.

  2. Does it make me money, does it make me happy, does it challenge me?-LOVE that! I’m going to start using that as a gauge for my own tendencies to get busy with things that don’t matter. Sometimes an extra hour of sleep would be much more beneficial then staying up surfing the web, or doing blog stuff.

  3. Well said my friend! I really hate the word “busy” even though I’ve used it myself. I feel like the word is thrown around out there as some kind of badge that you are important to something or someone. To me it’s like empty calories…it fills you up but gives you no nutritional value. When I start to feel cranky in life, I know I’m more busy than productive, or sometimes I’m just too productive and not taking enough time to just be. It’s important to constantly evaluate your life to make sure you are taking enough time to just relax.

    • That is such a great analogy! Empty calories = being busy. I am right there with you about being cranky if I am not being productive, or if I’ve not had enough ‘me’ time.

  4. Good post! It is SOOO easy to fall into that trap of feeling like you have to be busy and one that I am guilty of all too often. The problem is, is that you can only go so far without some R & R. I have found that taking that down time and unplugging is what helps keeps me going.

    • Re-energizing is a must! It’s so easy to confuse the two and be busy and feel like you are being productive. It takes a lot of focus and dedication to make that distinction!

  5. I can’t imagine blogging 4-5 times a week. I barely have time for the 2-3 times that I’m able to get on the computer! Your decisions to avoid the “busy trap” are the same type of decisions I ask myself when I’m about to buy something. Is it worth my time? Energy? Will I get satisfaction equal to the amount of time I had to work for it?

  6. When I was younger I was definitely a busy bee but as you get older I just try to do what I want to, when I feel like it. It doesn’t always work but more often than not I am starting to be able to relax and unwind more frequently. The mind really appreciates doing absolutely nothing sometimes lol!

  7. Pingback: Link Love/Week in Review 3/22/13 | Budget and the Beach·

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