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Busy vs. Productive: How to Tell the Difference and Promote Productivity

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In the office setting, there are two types of people who get things done: (1) those who are busy and (2) those who are productive.

The busy type works hard, but still end up working nights, weekends, or even holidays just to keep up.  Busy people are often too tired to enjoy their personal lives after they leave the office.

Productive people do the same work in half the time.  They put far less labor into their efforts. At the end of the day, they still have the energy to spare for their friends, their family, and their hobbies.

Some people are naturally productive. They are gifted with the ability to identify ways to simplify their work, effectively utilize technology, delegate where appropriate, and know when to say “no.”   However, for most people, eliminating busy work and identifying ways to save time is a skill that must be learned and developed. If you are not productive by nature, here are a few ways you can improve.

Track Your Responsibilities

In an office setting, employees often delegate their work.  Most of the time, the person delegating work does not actually care who completes a task so long as it gets done.  If you happen to be the first person they see, you will be the lucky one who helps them. If you are a “busy” person, you probably accept the work without question or complaint.

Don′t be busy.  Be productive instead.  Keep a list of your responsibilities.  Every time someone asks you to take on something new, review that list to determine whether you have time to take on more work.  If not, it is okay to ask if someone else can do the work instead. If the person insists that you have to be the one to complete a particular task, show them your existing to-do list and ask them to help you prioritize so that everything gets done.  Chances are, once your co-worker realizes that you have plenty of work, they will find someone else to help them. Even if they don′t, they may be able to help you shift other responsibilities onto someone else.

That isn′t to say you should always refuse to help or to accept new responsibilities.  Just know your worth and the value of your time before you take on additional projects.  Work is a priority, but work-life balance should be equally as important.

Track Your Time

In order to find ways to save time, you first need to know how you are currently spending it. The answer may surprise you.  Spend at least a week tracking every minute of your workday. If you spend two minutes making a phone call, write it down. If you spend ten minutes entering financial information into a spreadsheet, write that down.  Write down every break, every e-mail, even the two-minute conversation with a coworker in the hallway. No one other than you need to see this timesheet. Be thorough and be honest.


  • How much time do you spend answering e-mails? Should you consider blocking off time to review and respond to e-mails each day so that the rest of your workday is not constantly interrupted?
  • How many meetings did you attend? Was your presence necessary? Did you benefit from the meeting in any way?
  • How much time did you spend tracking down information about products or clients? Could you use a CRM or another software to help you track this information in a simpler, more efficient manner?
  • Do you waste time reentering the same data over and over again? Is there technology available that would help you store information and/or eliminate repetitive tasks?
  • Are you the best person to complete the work? Is there someone else in the office better qualified to complete certain tasks?
  • Are you doing work that could easily be delegated to someone else?
  • Do you spend a significant amount of time tracking your spending or balancing accounts? Is it time to hire an accountant or a bookkeeper to take over this work?
  • Do you spend a lot of time answering or responding to phone calls? Should you consider hiring a secretary, a virtual assistant, or an answering service?
  • Are all of the jobs you′re handling actually necessary for your work? How many of your tasks lie outside of your job description?


Use Technology

There is an app for almost any need you can imagine.  Need help managing calendars? There′s a project management app for that. Looking for a simple, organized way to stay in touch with employees or co-workers on the go?  Try a messaging app like Slack or Skype. Need a way to access client data from your phone? Look into mobile CRM. Do your research. Chances are there is at least one app out there that can help you become a more organized and productive manager or employee.

Remember Your Goals

The key to determining how to prioritize your work is to remember your goal.  If you are a business owner, your goal is probably going to be finding ways to grow your business.  Reduce or eliminate the time spent on tasks that don′t further this goal. If you are an employee, perhaps your goal is to climb through the ranks with your current employer.  If that is the case, your goal should be to take on responsibilities that prove your skillset and make you invaluable to the company. Therefore, your goal should probably be delegating or reducing time spent on tasks that involve simple data entry and filing.  If you know where you want to go, it will make it much easier for you to figure out what tasks are most important to reaching your goal.

This post was written by Mary Hutto, a writer for TechnologyAdvice. She studied English/Writing at Western Kentucky University.  She lives in Westfield, Massachusetts and often contributes to blogs as a guest writer.  She also enjoys writing creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry in her spare time.

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