The Difference Between Being Busy and Being Productive

Last updated: 06-30-2018

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The Difference Between Being Busy and Being Productive

I recently wrote about the power of rest to increase productivity and creative thinking. For that reason, I also want to share a phenomenal resource from my friend, Angela Watson, that empowers teachers to make this a reality. She also has a summer planning guide you might want to check out.

If you enjoy this blog but you’d like to listen to it on the go, just click on the audio below or subscribe via iTunes/Apple Podcasts (ideal for iOS users) or Google Play and Stitcher (ideal for Android users).

When I was a new teacher, I believed I had to give 110% in everything I did. I thought that the best teachers were the ones who arrived first and left last. I was a busy teacher, taking on all kinds of committee work and saying yes to every project. But then I had a moment when I decided to “break up with busy.”

About eight years ago, I arrived home from work and my five-year-old son was already holding up a baseball.

“We can play, but I don’t have a lot of time,” I told him.

All I could think about was my to-do list. I had a department meeting to plan, papers to grade, and small projects to finish. However, as I slipped on the baseball glove, something changed. I forgot about my list. We tossed the ball back and forth.

But my son kept asking, “Is there still time?”

Is there still time?

So, that night, I met with my wife and talked about my schedule. It was a hard conversation, where we talked about long-term priorities and what kind of a dad, husband, and teacher I wanted to be. I realized something critical: I was chasing perfectionism and trying to make a bunch of people happy and neglecting the people who mattered most.

That’s when I broke up with busy. I quit committees. I limited my projects. I set a curfew for myself at work. I learned when to give 110% and when to give 11 or 12 percent.

See, I was drowning in busy and yet I’d been wearing busy like a badge of honor; like I was winning some imaginary competition. But life isn’t a game. Actually, Life is a board game and I think it’s also a cereal (at least according to Mikey).

But here’s the thing: You don’t get a trophy for packing your schedule with more projects and more accomplishments and more meetings.

All you get is a bigger load of busy. But busy is hurried. Busy is overwhelmed. Busy is fast. Busy is careless. Busy is a hamster wheel that never ends and a sprint up the ladder without ever asking where it leads. There are moments when life gets busy. I get that. But I never want busy to be the new normal. I never want to look back at life and say, “Wow, I was really good at being busy.”

When I made the leap and decided to “break up with busy,” I noticed something happening. I actually became a better teacher. After the difficult conversation with my wife, I remember thinking that I would be making sacrifices as an educator. However, that’s not what happened. I actually had more time, more energy, and more mental bandwidth to create epic projects for students. It turns out that I was more productive when I was able to rest. Here’s what I mean:

There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. Being busy is about working harder while being productive is about working smarter. Being busy is frantic while being productive is focused. Being busy is fueled by perfectionism while being productive is fueled by purpose. Being busy is about being good at everything while being productive is about being great at a few important things.

The following video explores this in-depth:

As I shifted away from busy, I found myself asking the following question:

We’ve all asked ourselves that at some point, and I bet these statements sound familiar, too:

I often meet teachers who want to innovate in their own practice but they are tired and overwhelmed. However, this requires a break away from the busy and toward the productive. Sometimes that can feel overwhelming.

Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re to blame or just need to manage your time better. There’s nothing wrong with YOU. The problem is the overwhelming demands of the job and the culture of perfectionism in education. When you’re overwhelmed, you don’t have the time, energy, or mental bandwidth to figure out HOW to change, and you’re too exhausted to follow through, anyway. You move into survival mode and grow risk-averse. In other words, your productivity plummets as your busy-ness increases.

You need an actual plan. It’s not enough to say, “I’m just going to break up with busy.” You ultimately have to tackle the root cause of the stress and overwhelm (in my case it was perfectionism). It also helps to create your own boundaries and find practical strategies for spending your time differently. But it also requires a different way of thinking about time.

It’s possible to figure this out on your own but you may want a coach and community to help you along the way. For me, it’s like the difference between going for a run or joining a gym and getting a personal trainer.  This is one of the reasons I love the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s a teacher-tested system that’s guaranteed to work, and ongoing support so you don’t have to figure everything out on your own. There is no one in the world better at helping teachers solve this problem than Angela Watson. When I first chose to “break up with busy,” Angela had specific ideas and frameworks that I could use as I moved forward on this journey of time and stress management. She gave me concrete action steps that I could implement from day one.

The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club has already helped teachers around the world shave hours off their workweek, and become purposeful with their time. I am excited about partnering with her as an affiliate of this club. She provides necessary resources along with a trusted community that helps you to do “fewer things better.”

Angela Watson continues to inspire me in my own practice of prioritizing and making time for what matters. It’s not about working 40 hours a week, it is about finding the number of hours per week you should/could/can be working and make those hours productive and meaningful so you can thrive as a creative teacher. It’s about shifting the focus toward student ownership and empowerment so that you can innovate in your own practice.


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