Why being busy doesn’t make you important

“I’m really busy” has to be one of the most common (and overused) phrases in the English language.

“How’s your day going?” a friend asks. “Busy” we respond.
“How’s work been?” your brother questions. “So busy” we retort.

We say it without even thinking. It’s a reflex. But do we ever stop and think about what it means?

We think that being “busy” is a good thing, and seek to wear it like a badge of honour. As if, being busy means we’re being productive. And if we’re being productive we must surely be important, right? #busyandimportant

But, being busy and being productive is not the same thing.

Being busy involves reacting

We react to emails and we react to texts. We react to Facebook and we react to meeting requests. We react all day and because others do the same we find ourselves in a never ending loop of reactions. Hence, we’re perpetually “busy”. We let others dictate how we spend our days by constantly reacting and yet, we wonder why we never seem to make any progress on the things that matter.

We might think we’re creating change, helping others or progressing with decisions, but more often than not, we’re just reacting. Take a look at your to-do list. Does it have things like responding to an email, replying to a tender or setting up that meeting your boss asked you about? We’re not #busyandimportant we’re #busyandreactive.

Being productive involves proactivity

What’s the main difference between busy and productive? Well, the answer is in the first three letters. P. R. O. We feel productive when we’re being proactive. Being productive, then, is actually the opposite of being busy.

We’re productive when we’re proactively carving out time to sit and think about how we might solve a problem. We’re productive when we proactively take the time to go to the gym. And we’re productive when proactively aligning tasks to a purpose.

There’s a place for both

Of course, there’s always going to be a mix of both reactive and proactive tasks on any given day. I’m not denying that. But too often the scale tips to the side of reactive because we know how to do it. We’re good at being reactive and it feels safe. The proactive approach, on the other hand, is more challenging because no-one tells you what to do. There’s less certainty and we’re left to use our own judgement. It feels uncomfortable and hard. But being proactive is where the gold lies. It’s where the ideas are and it’s where the motivation comes from.

Consider whether Zuckerberg created Facebook by being reactive and busy or being productive and proactive? What about Elon Musk? Do you think he founded Tesla, SpaceX, OpenAI & Neuralink by being reactive or proactive?

It’s at this point I’d bet a few of you are thinking “Sure, it’s easy for someone like Zuckerberg to be proactive, but not me, I’m just too busy.”

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