Are You Productive, Or Are You Just Busy?

Completing tasks on autopilot is the most dangerous thing you can do.

Are You Productive, Or Are You Just Busy?
Image by the author.

Completing tasks on autopilot is the most dangerous thing you can do.

I was 27 when I realized I’d wasted my life.

I kept making goals, achieving them, reviewing progress, and setting new goals. But behind all this hustle, what was I trying to achieve? I had no clue!

Completed to-do lists and exhausted journals don’t indicate productivity. They indicate you’ve been busy.

But been busy doing what? 

I was merely living life on autopilot, going through the motions my 9-to-5 demanded. There wasn’t any passion, no active zeal to achieve my dream.

My schedule was perpetually packed. There was always something to do. I barely had time to breathe, but all my activities never led me anywhere.

I was stagnating, stuck in a loop. It felt like life was passing me by and I hardly could notice.

“If you don’t have time, the truth is, you don’t have priorities.” — Tim Ferriss.

If you’re feeling the same, maybe it’s time you took a step back and analyzed the toll your quest for productivity is taking on you. Are you actively working towards a goal or are you filling up your schedule with tasks that lead nowhere?

Here are some signs you’ve been merely keeping busy under the guise of being productive.

You consume more than create

For years, my to-do list consisted of items like this:

  • Watch TEDx talk of bestselling author
  • Complete the thriller writing masterclass 
  • Read tutorials on how to self-edit your writing

And so on. 

I was consuming content every day, but rarely creating any. 

It felt like I was enriching my brain with new ideas. Every lecture series or podcast I completed gave me a dopamine hit. I kept on doing this on loop until I realized all this accumulated knowledge will have no returns unless I put it to some use.

I started being intentional about my content consumption, and focused more on creating my own stories. It took time, but my to-do list evolved to include things like “Write 3000 words,” “Publish one article,” or “Set up an email newsletter.”

Baby steps, but they took me forward bit by bit.

Consuming helpful content lets you grow, but only if you implement the learnings.

If your sense of accomplishment comes from content consumption rather than creation, you’re suffering from fake productivity.

You spend too much time planning

“I’ll start a YouTube channel with productivity-based videos.”

“I’ll write a fantasy trilogy with death and rebirth at its core.”

“I’ll build a niche website on dating advice.”

These were some of my plans. I drew elaborate charts on how to maximize my business. I practiced fake client calls. I memorized tutorials on how to set up a website and start monetizing with ads.

While all of these gave me a dopamine hit, in essence, it was only intellectual masturbation.

The lofty dreams created a fake sense of accomplishment and tricked my brain into thinking I was doing something worthwhile. In reality, all I was doing was build castles in the air.

If you can relate, maybe you’re in the same boat. If you only plan and don’t execute, you’re suffering from a productivity block.

You spend too much time analyzing

“What if my audience gets confused about my core message?”

“What if Google changes its algorithm and my niche website is never discovered?”

“What if readers shift to non-fiction by the time I publish my thriller?”

If you start analyzing all the ways your great idea might fail before you even start executing it, you’ll be stuck in a “Pros and cons” loop forever. Your brain will be exhausted analyzing all the possibilities, but you’ll barely get any work done. This is another example of being busy but not being productive.

“That moment of hesitation is a killer. Hesitation sends a stress signal to your brain. It’s a red flag that signals something’s wrong — and your brain goes into protection mode. This is how we are wired to fail.” — Mel Robbins

My fear of failure was so strong, I almost didn’t publish my 4th book. But I conquered it, and the only way to do so is with action. 

Small steps in the direction of your goal are more powerful than any piece of motivation you can find in this world.

You love talking about your ideas

My friends knew all about how I was going to be the bestselling author. They knew I’d be leveraging Facebook ads to reach my target audience. They knew I’d conduct book signing tours all over the world. 

Talking about my *big* ideas and seeing my friends’ eyes shine in anticipation gave me a rush of adrenaline. It created the false sense of accomplishment that comes with actually conquering your fears.

If your conversations are centered around things you’ll execute “one day,” maybe you’re suffering from a productivity block. 

Talking about what you’ll do is easy. Anyone can make lofty claims. It’s sticking to your plans and powering through difficulties that makes you stand out.

You’re always “working”

When someone asks you what your plans are, is your answer always, “I’m working?”

Until I turned 27, whenever I had my computer turned on, I felt I was working. Even when I had multiple tabs open and a song playing in the background, my “work” kept me busy.

In hindsight, I realize I was looking for excuses to trick my brain into believing I accomplished something meaningful. Staying glued to my computer screen for hours seemed to justify the breaks I needed to take. The false sense of being “busy” lulled me into thinking I was actually being productive.

If your day consists of multiple hours spent staring at a screen and yet in the end, you feel like you accomplished nothing at all, maybe your work isn’t truly “work.” Maybe it’s a crutch you resort to when you need to find some sense of meaning in your life.

Being busy vs being productive: Final thoughts

There’s a thin line between between constantly occupied with work and actually carving out a path towards your dream life.

In today’s hustle culture, quotes like “You snooze, you lose,” make us believe we’re meant to be hustling 24/7. But meaningful work often looks different.

You need to be crystal clear with what your goals are. The path to reach them should be well-charted. You’ll need to be intentional about every hour of work you put in. Small victories need to be celebrated and hurdles along the way worked around.

Creating your dream life isn’t going to be easy.

But you’re on this planet for a limited amount of time. What if you let go of everything that was keeping you busy, and focused on being productive instead?

What if you finally heeded that voice in your head that screams you deserve better than this? What if you actually took a step towards where you always wanted to be?

I’m 32 now, and I’ve long since quit my 9-to-5. My lifelong passion was writing, and today, it’s my full-time job. I could chalk out this path for myself the moment I realized I needed to actively work on my dreams.

I got out of the trap of being busy and started being productive instead.

And if I can do it, so can you. 

I’m rooting for you.

Love writing but don’t know where to start? Join my FREE 5-day course. It’ll teach you the successful writer’s framework that took me 5 years to master.

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