A Coaching Power Tool Created by Rachel Bloom
(Performance Development Coach, AUSTRALIA)
You can fool everyone else, but you can’t fool your own mind. David Allen, author and productivity consultant.
Up until a few months ago, I used to believe being busy is “tantamount to being productive” as described by Larry Kim in his article about the Difference between Busy and Productive People.
I am and have always been a busy person. when I think back to whenever I would say “I am so busy”, I would really wear it like a badge of honor. It helped define me. Everyone and anyone who knows me also knows that I am always busy. Being busy was also synonymous with helping others and people-pleasing, being generous with my time, thoughtful, resourceful, capable, and caring. I was comfortable with that.
I was busy at school. I was busy as a single person. I was busy as a married couple and I am busy as a mother of 3 girls. I am always busy. I have caught myself sometimes reflecting and thinking about how I could have been so busy as a single person yet somehow now I am the primary caregiver of a family of five, amongst many other roles I play, yet even back then I had no care or responsibility other than to myself. There was no “me” time back then as I was always the one putting up my hand for committee work and saying yes to every project thrown my way. To this day, no significant other, friend, colleague, or work associate in my life would be impacted by my business in any way as I have always made sure everyone else’s needs and wants were met. The only needs and wants that were not met were my own as they were always put last. This always seemed okay until either my body told me it wasn’t or I hit a brick wall. I would get physically and mentally tired. I couldn’t fool my own mind anymore.
It felt like an imaginary competition within my own mind. The more I took on the more I might be viewed as a productive person. As I reflect on past jobs I think about how I was drowning in busy and the more I said yes to take more on the more they would offer me to do. I remember thinking, I work really well when I‘m really busy. But was I really working well or would I have been better off being productive? It was only when at times I had blurry vision, a headache, or a metal taste in my mouth when my body was saying “I need a break”, you are “too busy” did I speak up. I remember feeling shocked that my bosses didn’t know when to stop giving me stuff but rather I needed to speak up and either ask for help or let them know I had reached my maximum capacity and busy-ness. As John Spencer describes in his article about the Difference Between Being Busy and Being Productive, “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.” This is my busy.
In a recent coaching session with my own Coach on this very topic of being “too busy” and having no time for self-care, she asked me the following powerful question: What would it feel like to give the generosity of time and care to yourself instead of to others? I stopped in my tracks. It was an AHA moment for me. It challenged my “busy” mindset and got me thinking about what else is possible? It really got me to question, Who would I be if I’m not busy? What if busy could actually mean including self-care? Better still, taking care of myself and taking the time for self-care is not actually being busy but rather using my time to be productive and look after myself. It could actually be ok to be productive and not be available to others at that moment in time as I would actually be busy, or otherwise engaged, taking care of myself…first! What I needed to do was get myself on my own master “to do” list and be comfortable with this. I needed to start to understand and genuinely appreciate this and guard it carefully.
My belief and mindset were such that being busy was essential. My mindset included the thinking that it must be shameful to not do anything and self-care was not something to be included or recognized as part of being busy. This was something you only did if you had time to after ticking everything else off the list. As I reflected on my childhood, I could identify parallels of this being a learned behavior and mindset from my busy parents and in turn, their busy parents. The work now is around defining “productive” for me around boundaries and balance and incorporating self-care into my productive and sometimes busy life. These are new choices and new actions. A new belief about Busy vs Productive.
What does Busy mean? It is an adjective and a verb and it means you are doing things.
“Having a lot to do; perhaps not free to do something else because you are working on something”. www.Oxfordlearnersdictionary.com or according to the Cambridge Dictionary, if you are busy, ‘you are working hard, or giving your attention to a particular thing.”
Its’ having a great deal to do. You are actively or fully engaged or occupied. So, naturally, if you are busy you are not free or available to do something else.
What does Productive mean? Productive is an adjective. It implies commitment and focused effort.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it means, “having positive results. resulting in or providing a large amount or supply of something”.
Just in definition, it has a good or positive connotation around it.
Busy primarily stress activity as opposed to idleness or leisure. As I have now discovered, you can be productive by being idle or doing something leisurely if you choose to.
When you explore the opposites of busy, there is no wonder it rings true to a mindset or belief that it is shameful not to be busy as it does have several negative connotations. Some Cambridge and Oxford Dictionary antonyms include: slothful, idle, unoccupied, work-shy, plain, inactive, not intrusive, unengaged, otiose, lackadaisical, bone-idle, indolent, faineant, lazy, bone-lazy, unintrusive, and leisured.
Simply put, the opposite of productive is only inefficient. It is somewhat negative but not implying you are lazy, inactive, and unengaged to name a few!
There’s a clear distinction between being busy and being productive. Being busy is about working harder while being productive is about working or being smarter about the way you tackle the things you need or want to achieve. Being busy can be frantic while being productive can be focused. John Spencer says, “Being busy is about being good at everything while being productive is about being great at a few important things.”
In a Forbes online article about Busy vs Productive, Jennifer Cohen says, “The most productive and efficient people are those that “own their day” versus letting their day own them. They work to maximize their time to be as productive as possible, not just busy.”
She goes on further to say, “There is a huge difference between being busy and being productive. You can be busy all day and still feel like you’re behind on accomplishing your goals. Busy people tend to be great at “looking busy” whereas productive people are simply “getting it done.”
Larry Kim sums it up in his article titled, The Difference between Busy and Productive People by saying, “Busy people are the human equivalent of a 7-Eleven. Productive people know when to shut the door.”
At the moment, there are a lot of articles and blogs addressing the need of people to stop glamourizing overworking. The COVID 19 pandemic has focused many people to review and rethink this. The absence of sleep, a good diet, exercise, relation, and time with friends and family isn’t something to be applauded. Too many people wear their burnout as a badge of honor says Katy Leeson, Managing Director of Social Change UK. As coaches, we want to help our clients identify when being busy is counterproductive to their health and wellbeing. At times, as my own coach did for me, you need to ask powerful questions to evoke self-awareness around the issue and/or use direct communication to point it out in a caring and considerate way. Coaches need to shine a light on the elements of busy versus productive that the client can not obviously see and discern the truth from the perception.
As coaches, we need to acknowledge that when we (or our clients) are being productive and not busy you actually have more energy and more mental bandwidth to be present first and foremost to yourself and others.
When our client maybe in this state of busy, we need to ask powerful questions like:
- What does busy mean to you? (or look or sound or feel like)
- What are you truly accomplishing when you are busy?
- What is it about being busy that is making it a problem for you?
- What’s getting in your way of not being busy?
- What is keeping you so busy?
- What is keeping you from being productive?
- In what way is this serving you?
- What would you be doing if you weren’t busy?
- What could you be doing if you weren’t busy?
- What could it look like for you to move from busy to productive?
- What is the impact or value-add to you by being busy?
- What could productive look (feel, sound) like for you?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen if you weren’t busy?
One of the key messages coaches can share is that we all do have choices. A coach can encourage the client to consider the choice question.
- What do you choose to do today? Versus
- What do you have to do today?
Then encourage the client to permit themselves to do that. Acceptance of this can be freeing.
The next goal or action step forward for the client could be to learn how to say no when you need to so that this new boundary can be protected. They could then consider practicing and learn to comfortably say no.
As coaches, we can also lead by example and challenge our own thinking around being busy coaches and being productive coaches. Ask ourselves, when are too many clients too busy? Being able to comfortably say to a potential client; “At this point, I’m declining your request not saying no to you. In the coaches’ minds, they are saying to themselves, “I am saying yes to myself to productively take care of my needs first”.
As a result, Wiedel talks in his Blog, Weidel on Winning, that you get to choose what to do, rather than allowing others to dictate your time and priorities. The better your productivity and efficiency when you work, the more you get done, but that’s not all you get. You get more free time that you can use to relax, recover and de-stress if you choose to ..or push for even more challenges and success.
The following tools could also be helpful for a client to consider when defining productivity for themselves and trying to work away from the perceived obstacle of being busy. These tools can help discover and define what they really want and need, realize the new perspective that is better serving them, and then in time, potentially positively impact other aspects of their lives too.
- Belief Closet exercise
- Journaling their day/week/month (evidence and self-reflection to deepen the awareness)
- Visualization exercises (envisioning the desired state of mind – eg in my case, being comfortable to sit on the couch and just watch Netflix!)
- Mindfulness practice (as often as suits the person and for as long as they like)
- Creating a Vision board around what Productive means for now and the future
- Mirror work (created by Louise Hay) to practice new phrases, eg comfortably saying no out loud.
So, it is time now for me to break up with busy and re-partner with productive. Like any relationship I know it will have its ups and downs but I do look forward to continuing exploring together new definitions, feelings, and actions of what it means to me to give me a balanced, productive life where I choose to fit my own oxygen mask first before I fit others.
After my own coaching session, I realized something critical for the first time: I was always so busy and so busy trying to make a bunch of people happy and neglecting the person who mattered most to me.
Larry Lim says, “It is OK to quit strategically and give up on plans that are not exactly feasible and practical at that moment. Instead, focus your energy and resources solely on that one thing that resonates to your core.”
When I take something on now in my production schedule I first check to see what resonates with my core.
I know you need to listen to your body as your body never lies. With my new perspective or belief, self-care, should and can be included in productivity as it is about you and what you need. In fact, nobody even needs to know what you are doing when you say you are busy. Whether it’s doing something for yourself or others. You are productively taking care of yourself and during that time you are busy. This shift pushed me to think about how I value myself. It’s helped me realize when to give 100% and when to give 10 percent or when to give something in the middle.
I know I am a people pleaser and I enjoy being productive. I now manage this with boundaries and balance and focused effort.
The following two graphics are printed and hanging on my wall at home. They are a clear reminder that this power tool can challenge your thinking on the way you define busy and productive.
Spencer, John. The Difference Between Being Busy and Being Productive. June 26, 2018
Cohen, Jennifer. Forbes. Busy versus Productive. Which one are you? June 25, 2018
Kim, Larry. Inc. The Difference Between Busy and Productive People. Are you a busy Donkey or a Productive Unicorn? Feb 27, 2018
Wiedel on Winning, Winning Insights Blog. Being Busy versus being Productive. Just because you are always busy doesn’t mean you are productive. 2020
Allen, David. Getting Things Done. The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, 2001.