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8 Reasons You’re Busy but Not Productive

Kaylene Mathews

Kaylene Mathews

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In the past 24 hours have you talked about, thought about or simply felt like you’re too busy? You feel as if you’re on a runaway train of busy and you’re not sure how to get off. I found myself on this train recently and I wasn’t enjoying the ride. I had to take some time to step back from the madness and identify what was happening.

Busy is a choice and it doesn’t necessarily mean productive. At the end of the day busy doesn’t impress, results do. Why then, do we as a culture, seem to choose to be so busy? I discovered a few possible answers after examining my own situation and that of people I’ve worked with.

8 Reasons You’re Busy but Not Productive


For some people busyness provides a certain high. They feel most “alive” when they’re busy… really busy. I have a couple of friends who simply do not like not being busy. In fact as they describe it, they become blue if they have even two days of not being busy. When they do get a few seconds of spare time they fill it up with hours of activity and become even busier than they were before. As with any addiction, their appetite for their addiction is never fully satiated.

 Related: 5 Signs You Might Be Addicted to Busy

Lack of discipline

Sometimes a person isn’t busy because they’re addicted to it, they’re busy because they’re not disciplined enough to use their time well. They engage in a flurry of activity all day but at the end of the day can’t really say what they did. They cannot focus on one task until complete. It reminds me of The Family Circus comic strip by Bill Keane from the 1970’s. The mom tells her son to quickly go and mail a letter before the mailman comes. Her son leaves and after several minutes rushes back in to tell her that he was too late as the mail had already gone. What the comic strip shows that happened in between his mom and the mailbox, was that the boy visited every room in the house before he even got outside to the mailbox. If he had gone directly to the mailbox, he would have caught the mailman before he came. This is funny as a comic strip, it’s not that funny when it’s how we live our lives.

Related: Your Success Depends on the Type of Goals You Set

Lack of clearly defined purpose

When you don’t know what you’re about, you become whatever catches your attention at the moment. The people who have clearly defined purposes in life, have the same clearly defined purposes for their days. They know at the beginning of the day what it is that they want to have accomplished by the end of the day. They set the bar high and they measure their results… every day. They have a purpose, they’re on a mission and they will succeed. It’s very different than just living life to get from Monday to Friday and enjoy the weekend. There’s very little purpose in the middle days of the week with that type of lifestyle.

Related: The Difference Between Busy and Productive


We’re afraid of what we will miss. Will we miss an opportunity? Will we miss something important? Will we be left out if everyone was doing something that we’re not doing? What if… we’re not busy enough? Will we miss life?

Related: The Power of One- What’s Your One?


We could be avoiding doing tasks that we’d rather not do. A few years ago I volunteered for a position with my kids school. It was task work at it’s worst for me. Instead of just doing the job and being done, I would allow at least a million other distractions into my time to avoid doing this task. One day I was finally fed up with myself and decided to find out how long the task really took. As apposed to the 3 hours it had been taking me, it took about 20 minutes. Twenty minutes or three hours – I was definitely choosing busy over productive.

 Related: What’s Causing Your Schedule Stress?

Inadequate filters

I have known people who will say yes to anyone who asks them to do something. They end up with a plate overflowing with activities, many of which they shouldn’t be doing in the first place. This goes back to having a clearly defined purpose and using it as a filter for your activities. You absolutely must have a filter for what you say yes to and what you say no to. If you lack these filters you will find that your time is full and busy, but not necessarily productive or meaningful.

Related: How to Say No: A 3-Step Guide

Busy Badge of Honor

We’re sometimes busy because that’s what everyone else is doing. In a sick sort of way it’s a “keeping up with the Jones’” type of competition. People who engage in this competition derive pleasure in their busyness. They love to hear people tell them that they don’t know how they do all that they do. When anything becomes a competition, someone is deemed the winner. Unfortunately, the winner of busy is the loser at the end of the day.

 Related:  Game Changer – Outcome Thinking

We don’t know how to not be busy

Sadly, I believe this is a legacy we are leaving to the next generation. I remember when my family went on road trips from Ohio to Florida to visit my grandparents. My parents were never concerned about me having “something to do” on the trip. Twelve hours a day for two days in the car and never once did they pull out a bag of tricks and take on entertaining me as a responsibility. I could sit for literally hours staring out the car window thinking, dreaming and entertaining myself. Fast forward several years and this is where I messed up. When my kids were little, they could watch movies in the car. I would read to them. I googled fun car games and activities that they could do. I had an entire bag-o-activities that I could access at a moments notice if the natives got restless. It’s not just road trips and it’s not just kids. In general, I don’t believe we value just being still anymore. Just slowing down and watching the world pass by. It’s not valued in this high achieving culture we live in. In addition, we don’t really know how to be still and when we do try, we’re fearful we’re forgetting something that we should be doing.

Related: 30 Minutes to End Your Day Right

Strong personal leaders choose productive over busy. If your activities aren’t as productive as you would like, or you’re busier than what you would like, determine to make a change. Step back, assess your current state, determine how you want to live and the story you want to tell. Then put a plan into place to choose productive over busy.

Kaylene Mathews is a Personal Leadership Consultant, Author and Speaker. She has worked with company giants such as Frito-Lay, Dean Foods, Tenet Healthcare and PepsiCo as well as small family owned businesses and individuals. She is currently working on her second book, Challenged to Greatness: 12 challenges to Skyrocket Your Personal Leadership. To learn more visit:

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