Are You Productive Or Just Busy?

Contributed by Jeanette Gardiner

Your day is starting and your ‘to do’ list is filled with tasks that you’re confident will add value to your business and help you reach your goals. 

If you’re able to tackle the thief known as busy work, that is.

Busy work shows up as things like re-organizing your desk, or checking your email every five minutes. By the end of the day, these “quick” tasks have interrupted the flow of your day and you realize you haven’t made any real progress on the tasks essential to growing your business and reaching your goals. 

Today I want to help you understand busy work a little better, and give you some tips and a downloadable journal exercise so that you can conquer this thief of productivity. 

Busy Work = Urgent

We’ve all been caught in the trap of busy work that feels urgent. But it’s important to understand that busy work doesn’t add value to your business. Something as simple as checking your social media account every time your phone dings may make you feel like you’re being productive when in reality you’re not. 

In order to say no to busy work, you have to be willing to say ‘no’ to seemingly urgent tasks. It’s easy for busy work to show up and take you off track. Maybe you’re working on your next email to your customers and you get a message that it’s time to update your privacy settings on an online account. Before you know it, your day is over and the unfinished email is still waiting. 

Busy Work = Procrastination

Busy work can also disguise itself as procrastination for many [guilty]. It’s tricky that way. You can rationalize all you want that before you begin a project, you need to make a giant to do list and organize your resources instead of simply starting the project.

If you want to say no to busy work, understand that it causes you to make a lot of plans. But it’s the follow through that makes the difference. If your busy work shows up as procrastination, try telling yourself this: “Before I begin on this project, I’m going to take ten minutes to make an outline.” Set a timer and when the ten minutes are up, start working even if your outline isn’t completed yet.

Busy Work = Overwhelm

Have you ever felt overwhelmed at the thought of starting a big project or learning a new program? I know I have. Overwhelm is yet another reason that you sometimes fill your days with busy, less important tasks instead of focusing on what's going to grow your business.

If you find that you’re using busy work to avoid overwhelming projects, write down one task in that bigger project to complete and give it a deadline. For example, if you’re planning a big social media campaign for an upcoming sale, one step could be: “By [your date], I will hire a graphic designer to help create visuals for the campaign.” You’ll find that accomplishing even one small step in a bigger project will give you just the momentum you need to keep moving forward.

Now that you have a better understanding of what busy work is and why you do it, you can tackle the real root of the problem and focus on the work that’s most valuable to growing your business and reaching your goals.

And to help you move this information into action, I’ve created a simple exercise for you to download and complete over on my website here: 

About Jeanette Gardiner

Jeanette Gardiner lives in Palmer, Alaska, and is the owner of SeaStar Strategies LLC where she helps time-strapped small business owners discover the gift of time by streamlining their administrative and marketing systems. Learn more at