Productivity vs busyness

20 Apr 2016 2-minute read

We’ve all had the feeling before. You come home from work and even though you did a lot you feel like you got nowhere.
So why are you feeling like this? Most likely you have been busy but not very productive.

To fully understand why we feel this way we need to have a look at both definitions. I’ve taken the definition of the dictionary site.


The quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services


Lively but meaningless activity

As you can see there is a clear difference between the two. With productivity you bring forth goods or services of a certain quality and usability.
On the other hand we have busyness which indicates that you are in fact doing something, but the act itself is totally meaningless.

Now the degree to which we see an action as productive or plain busyness depends highly on the context in which we perform said action.
For example, as a developer it is productive for me to work on the application that has an upcoming deadline. We’re making progress on the goods. Yet, if I were to clean-up my projects I would consider that to be busy. Sure, I’m doing something but it does not contribute to the upcoming deadline. It is thus a meaningless activity at that point.

EDIT: I got a few questions about the cleaning part. With “cleaning up my projects” I actually meant cleaning up the general workspace. Refactoring, as mentioned on Twitter, is in my eyes a valid productive action. This is also pure as an example.

So a big part of the whole productive vs busy argument lies in the eye of the beholder. This means that if you have this bad feeling on a regular basis try to look at what you’re doing and define if, for you, in which categories your actions fall. Next try to adjust your schedule to it. Give it a shot, who knows you might feel a lot more productive.