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To Get More Done, Stop Mistaking “Busy” for “Productive”

“Unsuccessful people are busy being busy. Successful people are busy being productive.” – Kevin Abdulrahman

Modern society rewards and reveres people who are busy. The busier you are, the more productive you must be as a result. Your output has to be adding value, right?

Not necessarily.

Sometimes we get so focused on the idea of being busy to show that we’re productive that we forget to stop and take stock of what we’re actually doing. A week full of meetings and hours chained to our desk sending emails will of course keep us busy. But if there are no tangible outcomes by the end of that week, how productive have you really been?

Chris Bailey has dedicated his life to researching productivity, mainly by doing experiments on himself, and writes the blog A Life of Productivity. His advice? “I think the biggest mistake people make when they try to become more productive is they try to do more things, instead of the right things”.

Wise words, but for many, it’s increasingly difficult to know the difference.

As creative freelancers, it can feel compulsory to fill our days to the brim. There’s a long-held misconception that you need to be constantly working on your craft, and being busy is the best way to demonstrate this. It’s true that freelancing is not easy, and it does take up more time than a 9-5 office job. However, that doesn’t mean that simply being busy generates productivity.

4 productivity myths that are making you less productive:

Myth #1: Long work hours = productivity

The average work day is set at 7.5 hours for a reason, yet many of us ignore this and work all hours of the day. There’s a huge misconception that by working long hours you’re being more productive.

However, research has confirmed something that’s pretty much common sense; our brains aren’t designed to work intensely for eight hours straight. We get tired, we burn out, and productivity goes out the window.

You’re much better off working shorter, more structured work hours with a clear focus planned for each part of the day. It’s also really important to know the hours when you’re most productive and plan your day accordingly. If you know you have a clearer head in the morning, then that’s the time to focus on some of the more challenging aspects of your work.

Myth #2: Lengthy to-do lists = productivity

Most people create to-do lists with a billion tasks on them, then feel like they have to complete these lists within a short and unrealistic time frame.

But here’s the problem: when we aren’t able to completely tick everything off our list, we start to feel demotivated.

You need to create a list that acknowledges that not every task is equally important. To do this, try creating a “Priority List” instead of a to-do list; mark what needs to be done first, which tasks you find enjoyable and which ones you don’t, and assign them realistic deadlines.

Myth #3: Doing everything yourself = productivity

The biggest mistake a lot of freelancers make is thinking they can do everything on their own. So often we take on projects and clients because we want the work and know we can deliver—even though that puts unnecessary pressure on our time and productivity levels.

When reviewing priority lists, consider which tasks you might be able to outsource. If you’ve got multiple clients but your finances are taking up a lot of your time, now might be a good point to get some accounting help. If your website updates are taking you twice as long as you think they should, think about hiring a designer for support.

To keep your workload within your means, you have to learn to delegate appropriately. Remember, productivity comes from collaboration as much as it comes from the work you do yourself.

Myth #4: Not taking breaks = productivity

As mentioned above, our brains simply aren’t wired to work for long hours on end. We need regular breaks to recharge, refresh and generate new ideas. Forcing our brains to focus on challenging tasks for too long is also detrimental to our health and well-being.

How many times have you been stuck on a problem or creative dilemma, only to find a solution when you’ve taken your mind away from the problem? Giving our brains space to focus on new tasks allows them the “breathing room” they need to untangle problems and come up with solutions.


So how should you start improving your productivity?

To really master your productivity, you need to understand what mistakes you’re making and address them. Conduct a review at the end of each week to determine your work output versus the time spent on each project. What are the common factors in your most and least productive time periods? How did any changes to your habits and behavior impact your output?

This approach will set you on the path to increased productivity. And that’s something that’s definitely worth adding to anyone’s priority list.

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