Close up of woman hands writing to do list in spiral notepad

The Difference Between Being Busy and Being Productive

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone judges another person for not “working hard enough.”  Up until the last couple of decades or so, people were taught to aspire to working 50+ hours a week because long hours meant you were achieving your goals.

Unfortunately, there are still folks out there that believe putting in long hours at work is the only path to success.  Let me tell you why this way of thinking is incredibly flawed. 

First the Facts: A study conducted by Stanford University found that productivity steeply declines after 50 hours of work in a week and those who work up to 70 hours actually get about as much done as the person who worked 55.  That’s 15 hours that could be spent focusing on other areas of your life, such as mental and physical health! 

Additionally, in an analysis of productivity by country, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) reported that 7 out of the top 10 most productive countries in the world average work weeks of under 30 hours.  The most productive country in the world is Luxemburg which averages a 29 hour work week.  Other countries in the top 10?  Norway with a 27.3 hour work week, Denmark with a 27.2 hour work week, and Germany with a 26.3 hour work week.  Of the 35 countries ranked, Mexico made the bottom of the list with the longest work week at 41.2 hours on average.

Why is this? 

Busy does not equal productive.  Let’s say it louder for the people in the back…


Here’s some clarification for those of you who need it:

You know those days when you wake up and you’re overwhelmed before you even get started with your day because of the length of your to do list?  That means you’re busy.  And before you ask, no, checking every item off of your to do list does not make you productive; I’ll tell you why.

Productivity doesn’t just mean you’re getting things done.  Rather, you’ve pared down your to-do list to only the items that will have the most impact in furthering you on your path to achieving your goals.  According to the Pareto Principle, this is generally about 20% of your list, and that 20% alone accounts for 80% of your results.  Productive people pinpoint the items in their top 20% and focus their energy on knocking them out efficiently and effectively.  They spend less time doing the least impactful tasks and in many cases, find ways to delegate or eliminate them altogether. 

The Verdict: Don’t let anyone boss you into working more than you know you need to work to get what you really want done, done!  More than likely, your extra time should be spent making improvements outside of your professional life. 

If you need help getting more productive, check out my Top 10 Tips on Productivity!

Alexis Smith

Alexis Smith