Being Busy Does Not Equal Productivity

Mfonobong Umondia (Bella)
6 min readApr 18, 2024
The Lady Bella

In today’s fast evolving world, busyness is often seen as a badge of honor. We juggle overflowing schedules, boast about our to-do lists that stretch into the new day or week, and wear exhaustion as a battle scar. But here’s a harsh truth: being busy doesn’t equal productivity. In fact, it can be the enemy of getting things done.

You may ask, Bella if being busy doesn’t equal productivity, then what is? Stay with me on this page as we delve into why we fall for the “busy trap” and explore strategies to become more focused and productive.

Why We Confuse Busy with Productive:

There are several reasons why we equate busyness with productivity and I will give five reasons below:

  1. The Cult of Hustle: Our culture glorifies constant activity. We see successful people working long hours and constantly “on the go,” leading us to believe mimicking this behavior is the key to success. However, this often leads to burnout and scattered focus, hindering true productivity.
  2. Multitasking Myth: Our brains aren’t designed to excel at multiple tasks simultaneously. Rapidly switching between activities actually reduces efficiency and increases the risk of errors. While we may feel busy multitasking, it often leads to low quality results.
  3. The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): We’re bombarded with information and opportunities. FOMO drives us to take on more than we can handle, fearing that saying “no” will leave us behind. This results in spreading ourselves too thin and achieving less with each task.
  4. The Dopamine Hit of Checking Things Off: Completing tasks, even simple ones, triggers a dopamine release in the brain, creating a sense of accomplishment. While this feels good, it doesn’t equate to real progress on our most important goals. We can get stuck in a cycle of checking off easy tasks while neglecting the high-impact ones and this doesn’t equate to actual progress towards our goals.
  5. Lack of Prioritisation: Not all tasks are created equal. When we fail to prioritise tasks effectively, we waste time on activities that don’t significantly move us towards our goals. Busy schedules don’t guarantee progress; focusing on the right tasks is key.

Not convinced? Okay let’s consider some real-life scenarios:

Sarah, a manager, spends her day attending to lots of meetings, emails, and managing her team’s urgent requests. By the end of the day, she’s exhausted but feels productive because of her constant activity. However, Sarah struggles to find time for strategic planning, leading to a feeling of treading water instead of moving forward. Let’s look at another scenario; David, a student, crams all night before exams, hopping between studying for multiple subjects, checking social media, and answering texts. While David feels busy, his scattered focus leads to information overload and poor performance.

What does being busy lead to?

The busy-body trap thrives on the misconception that constant activity equates to progress. We fill our days with tasks, emails, meetings, and notifications, creating a whirlwind of action that feels productive on the surface. These are three main things that this energy often leads to:

  • Scattered Focus: Multitasking dilutes our attention, leading to errors and wasted time switching between projects.
  • Decision Fatigue: The constant barrage of choices depletes our mental resources, making it harder to prioritise and make good decisions.
  • Burnout: Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks leads to stress, exhaustion, and ultimately, a decrease in productivity.

Does this sound like you on a good or bad day? Here are some tips I have personally followed that has helped me break free from the busy-body trap:

  1. Ruthless Prioritisation: Not all tasks are created equal. Identify your high-impact activities that truly move you towards your goals and eliminate anything that doesn’t contribute. Frameworks like the Eisenhower Matrix can help categorize tasks by urgency and importance.
The Eisenhower Matrix: How to Prioritize Your To-Do List [2024] • Asana

2. Embrace Focus Time: Schedule dedicated blocks of time (ideally 60–90 minutes) for focused work, free from distractions. Turn off notifications, silence your phone, and let others know you’re unavailable. This allows you to delve deep into tasks and achieve a state of flow, where you become hyper-focused and productive. PS: I was called all kinds of names when I started this but everyone adjusted eventually.

3. The Power of “No”: Don’t be afraid to say no to requests that don’t align with your priorities. Your time is valuable, and protecting it allows you to focus on what truly matters. Trust me this is 100% achievable. You can say No to people and the world will not end because you did so.

4. Embrace the Power of Planning: Start your day or week with a clear plan. Outline your most important tasks and schedule them into your calendar. This creates a roadmap for your time and prevents you from getting sidetracked.

5. The Art of Delegation: Don’t be a hero! Delegate tasks that can be effectively handled by others. This frees up your time for the work that only you can do. You need to read this short article on the 80/20 Principle.

6. Minimize Distractions: Our environment plays a huge role in our focus. Create a clean workspace, block out noise with headphones or earplugs, and use apps to manage social media and email notifications. This improves your focus time by 75%.

7. Take Breaks and Recharge: You are not a machine my dears, even machines break down if you don’t make them rest at intervals and so is our body. Our brains aren’t designed for constant work. Schedule regular breaks to get up, move around, and recharge. A short walk or mindfulness practice can do wonders for refocusing your energy.

A Sample Plan on How to Structure Your Day for Peak Performance

Now, let’s put these strategies into action with a sample daily structure:

  • Morning Deep Work (90 minutes): Schedule your most important, focus-intensive task for the morning when your willpower is strongest. This could be writing a report, working on a complex project, or studying for an exam.
  • Review & Plan (30 minutes): Take a short break, then dedicate 30 minutes to reviewing your progress, emails, and schedule. Make adjustments as needed and plan the rest of your day.
  • Focused Work Blocks (2 x 60 minutes): Schedule two more focused work blocks for tasks that require concentration. Break in between with short walks or stretches.
  • Administrative Tasks (60 minutes): Dedicate a block of time to handle emails, phone calls, and other administrative tasks that do not require deep focus.

Disclaimer: this is not the most comprehensive plan on how to structure your day but it is a good starting point for those that don’t know how to begin. As you progress, you will figure out what works for you and adjust it accordingly to fit your needs.

Productivity isn’t about working harder, it’s about working smarter. By focusing on the right tasks, eliminating distractions, and taking care of yourself, you can break free from the busy trap and achieve your goals with greater efficiency and satisfaction.

Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. When you hit this rock, use the “Just Five Minutes” technique. Tell yourself you’ll dedicate just five minutes to a task. Often, those five minutes turn into 20 or 30 minutes of productive work as you get into a flow state.

By implementing these tips, you can shift your mindset from busyness to productivity, and unlock a new level of achievement in your work and personal life. After all, true success lies not in how much you do, but in how much you accomplish.

Till I write to you again, xoxo Lady Bella 💞

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