Differences Between Productive and Busy People

Ivan Cubela | 1/16/2017 | Culture & People

We read this post and simply loved it! Originally it was shared on LinkedIn by Conor Neill and we had to share it here. Being productive today is really defined differently than it used to be. Today's technology is moving so fast and people tend to look busy more than they really are, but productivity is all that matters. Here's the difference between productive and busy people

Differences Between Productive and Busy People

I spent a day with the world’s number one ultraman Kilian Jornet back in 2010. He told me about the difference between his life in the mountains and the life he sees in the city.

Kilian spends most of his life in the mountains. He will run up and down Everest next year. He has already run up and down Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Montblanc and Cervino (setting the record for the fastest ascent on each). He says that he knows his destination, but is often doubtful about the exact path – he is very aware of surroundings, of changes in the weather, of loose rocks. He is constantly adjusting his path.


He told me that a few times a year he arrives into the city of Barcelona in his campervan. He parks. He gets out. He sees people walking confidently up and down the street. Everyone is walking with such confidence. They look so sure in their intention. They are sure of their steps… but they have no idea where they are going.

This is one of the differences between busy people and productive people. Read on to find out the 11 differences.

1. Busy people want to look like they have a mission. Productive people have a mission for their lives.

Busy people hide their doubt about the destination of their lives by acting confident in their little steps.

Productive people allow others to see the doubt in their little steps because they are clear on the destination.

2. Busy people have many priorities. Productive people have few priorities

Nobody is ever too busy, if they care they will make time. Life is a question of priorities. If you have 3 priorities, you have priorities. If you have 25 priorities, you have a mess.

The pareto priniciple is that 80% of your desired results come from 20% of your activity. Henry Ford built a fortune not by building better cars, but by building a better system for making cars. Busy people try to make better cars, productive people develop better systems for making cars.

3. Busy people say yes quickly. Productive people say yes slowly

Warren Buffet’s definition of integrity is: “You say no to most things”.

If you don’t say “no” to most things, you are diving your life up into millions of little pieces spread out amongst other people’s priorities. Integrity is that your values are clear and that your time is going to serve those values.

4. Busy people focus on action. Productive people focus on clarity before action

To focus on the top 20% of activities, you must gain clarity about what those activities are for yourself. The greatest resource you will ever have to guide you to live a good life is your own personal experience – if well documented. Sadly, most people only document their life in facebook status updates.

Keep a diary and take 5 minutes every day to reflect on the past day, on what worked, on what didn’t work; and some time on what inspires you.

5. Busy people keep all doors open. Productive people close doors

As a young person it is good to open options. It is good to want to travel, to learn languages, to climb mountains, to go to university, to work in tech, to live in another country. However, there comes a point in life where one must let go of most options and focus. If my goal this year is to learn spanish – I will speak spanish at the end of the year. If my goal this year is to speak spanish, earn 30% more, travel to 10 countries, get fit, find a girlfriend, go to all the concerts… I will not speak spanish at the end of this year.

6. Busy people talk about how busy they are. Productive people let their results do the talking

Stephen King says: “A writer is a producer of words. Produce words: you are a writer. Don’t produce words: you are not a writer”.

It is a clear binary thing. Talking about writing is not writing. Published authors don’t talk about their next book – they are focussed on producing it. I have grown to have less and less interest in what people tell me that they are going to do – I ask them what they have already done. Past performance is the only good indicator of future performance.

Feeling productive is not the same as being productive. This is important. I can feel productive while I’m playing minecraft. I can feel unproductive while I’m producing an excellent blog post that will help others take better actions.

7. Busy people talk about how little time they have. Productive people make time for what is important

Any time we spend on excuses is time not spent on creation. If you allow yourself to practice excuses, you will get better and better at excuses. Productive people don’t use time as an excuse. An action either supports their highest values and mission, or it does not. If it does not, they don’t do it – even if they have a whole day off.

There is an Irish saying: “It is better to do something than nothing”.

This is a lie! It is better to do nothing than to do an action that doesn’t connect with your highest values. Sit still.

8. Busy people multitask. Productive people focus

Productive people know about focus.

Do you know about the Pomodoro technique? It is brutal, but it is effective. Identify a task to be done (for instance, write this blog post). Set a timer to 20 minutes. Work on the task until the time sounds. Any distraction (I must check email, I must get some water, I must go to the bathroom) and you reset the timer to 20. How many pomodoros can you complete in a day?

9. Busy people respond quickly to emails. Productive people take their time

Email is a handy list of priorities. The problem: they are other people’s priorities, not yours. If you respond to every email, you are dividing up your life into a thousand tiny bits that serve other people’s priorities.

There are 3 choices when you first review your email inbox: Delete, Do, Defer. This is not a post on email management, here are a few on managing email overload from Gigaom, Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur.

10. Busy people want other people to be busy. Productive people want others to be effective

Busy managers measure hours of activity, productive managers measure output. Busy managers are frustrated by others looking relaxed, looking like they have time, looking like they are enjoying their work. Productive managers love seeing others enjoy their work, love creating an environment in which others can excel.

Busy people are frustrated. They want to be valued for their effort, not for their results.

There is a Hindu saying: “We have a right to our labour, not to the fruits of our labour”.

We have a right to enjoy being excellent at our work, not a right to enjoy the car, the house, the money that comes from doing good work. Productivity is about valuing the journey towards excellence, not any moment of activity.

11. Busy people talk about how they will change. Productive people are making those changes.

Kilian Jornet doesn’t spend much time talking about what he will do. He talks about what he has done, what he has learnt, what inspires him.

Spend less time talking about what you will do and dedicate that time to creating the first step. What can you do now that requires the approval of nobody else? What can you do with the resources, knowledge and support that you have now? Do that. It is amazing how the universe rewards the person who stops talking and begins.

We are born with incredible potential. At the age of 20, the best compliment that can be paid is that you have a lot of potential. At the age of 30, it is still ok. At 40, you have a lot of potential is becoming an insult. At 60, telling someone that they have a lot of potential is probably the cruelest insult that can be made about their life.

Don’t let your potential go to waste. Create something amazing. This is its own reward.

Make 2017 your year of Jedi Productivity

I wrote a series of 11 posts on Productivity on my blog last year, under the fun theme of Star Wars... called Jedi Productivity. Here are the full set of posts:

  1. Jedi Productivity 11 of 11: We need you. The Jedi must Prevail over the Evil Empire and why you matter
  2. Jedi Productivity 10 of 11: ”Luke! you switched off your targeting computer!” making time for yourself
  3. Jedi Productivity 9 of 11: Yoda’s first rule: Do or do not, there is no try
  4. Jedi Productivity 8 of 11: How the Death Star commander runs his Hyper-effective Meetings
  5. Jedi Productivity 7 of 11: R2D2, C3PO and the Power of Delegation
  6. Jedi Productivity 6 of 11: “Use the phone Luke…” Master the telephone
  7. Jedi Productivity 5 of 11: Han Solo’s guide to Getting on top of the Email Inbox (a.k.a. Jabba the Hutt)
  8. Jedi Productivity 4 of 11: Obi-Wan’s guide to say “No”, (these are not the droids you are looking for…)
  9. Jedi Productivity 3 of 11: Deal with Darth Vader’s Evil “Urgent” Interruptions
  10. Jedi Productivity 2 of 11: The Emperor’s guide to Goal Setting and the 20 Mile March (LT, ST, habits)
  11. Jedi Productivity 1 of 11: Obi-Wan says “Be Systematic” if you want Productivity (and balance)
TalentLyft ATS

Your Hiring Teammate

TalentLyft is intuitive and simple recruitment software specialized for SMBs.
Try it free for 14 days!
No credit card required, unsubscribe at any time.