Productivity and Busyness Are Not The Same Things

productivity and busyness are not the same things

Inside: this is a guest post from Emma of Scheib of Productivity and busyness are not the same thing although they’re often mistaken one for the other. Intention is the key to tell them apart. Emma shares 3 ways to bring more intention to your life.

As a recovering perfectionist and type A personality, productivity has been a longtime friend of mine. Or at least I thought it was. Turns out I was really best friends with ‘busyness’ NOT productivity. And busyness can be anything but a friend!

Productivity and busyness are not the same things.


My journey towards a slower and more intentional life is a few years in the making now, and this realization has been my latest signpost. Sometimes these epiphanies literally stop me in my tracks.

One day recently, I paused in the middle of a run (dog looking at me strangely) and pondered this new signpost.

Sometimes busyness and productivity look and sound alike. but actually, they aren’t that closely related at all.

Busyness gets dressed up all fancy, puts some high heels and lipstick on and pretends she’s productivity. But at her core busyness is this; multi-tasking, overworking, mindlessness, overconsumption, exhaustion and a fractured existence. And sometimes, busyness is a band-aid to cover up the things that need to be felt.

Productivity is much more elegant and authentic. She single-tasks, focuses, rests, aims for a healthy balance between consumption and creating, and she requires us to be present in the moment.

(Productivity can sometimes look like busy too. This usually happens when we have made a conscious decision to tilt towards work or play for a season.)

I instantly knew which one I’d rather abide in. So now that I knew how different they were, I felt like I needed to know why they were so different, and why they were often mistaken for each other…

And then it hit me, the difference between the two is INTENTION.


Intention is the key ingredient we need for our lives to be productive and not busy.

I’ll be honest with you. When I decided a few years ago to let go of busyness and perfection, I did so with a bit of reluctance. I enjoy being productive and I’m a list kinda girl. So even though I knew I badly needed to slow down and simplify my life I didn’t necessarily want to give up all of the things I was doing that made me busy.

What I wanted was to do each thing more intentionally. To be more present and feel less like a chicken running around with its head cut off for most of the day. I wanted the sweet satisfaction that comes with achieving my goals, minus the exhaustion that had usually accompanied it before.

If INTENTION is the key difference and key ingredient in making the switch from busy to productive, you might be interested in knowing how to add more intention to your day.

Here are three ways you can bring intention into your life today.

Set intentions

You could start each day by setting an intention. It’s not as airy-fairy as it sounds. The concept is a wee bit subjective but this is my take on it. My intention is a representation of who I want to be each day. Not what I want to do. For example, “Today I will be brave and strong.”, or “Today I can do anything but not everything”.

The idea is that this intention can help you navigate your day and focus on what’s important to you. You can make up your own but there are also plenty of places to find inspiring quotes for your intention or mantra online.

And you don’t need to choose a new one each day. You might decide that there are a few that really resonate with you. You could even get them printed and hang them on your fridge or above your desk.


This is a productivity tool but I believe that single-tasking enables and invites intention into our lives. The opposite of this is what is commonly referred to as ‘multitasking’. But what we are usually doing is task switching.

In the middle of cooking dinner, you answer your phone, on your way back to stirring the pot you decide to quickly fold some washing, you then discover your pre-schooler has just drawn on her baby sisters face – with a permanent marker. You scrub her face, the pot boils over, and you feel fractured and overwhelmed. This task switching or multitasking is anything but intentional!

I get that we can’t always live in a state of cool and calm and single-tasking, particularly with young children. But the more we practice it and bringing intention to our tasks, the easier it will become.

Be mindful

Approach your everyday tasks, even your habitual ones (40% of our everyday behaviors are habitual) with mindfulness. Making your kids lunches? Switch off the autopilot and get back in the driver’s seat. Notice what you are doing. Notice each movement, slice the cheese with grace, butter the bread with finesse! Every movement and moment offers us something new.

Start out by trying to do something mindfully just once per day. Something I love to do is read to my children mindfully. But do you know how many times I’ve read them their bedtime story whilst thinking about something else? I still can’t comprehend how this is possible, but it happens – all the time. So every few days I try and remind myself to read the story mindfully. I think we both enjoy this special time more when I do this.

I hope that these practical tips can help you be more present and productive, and less busy and fractured.

Emma Scheib

Emma Scheib gained her Masters in Psychology in 2013 and has since worked full time in corporate research positions for government agencies. She recently gave up her “dream job” to pursue being a (happier) mum, living a slower pace of life. She is also dipping her toes back into her long-lost love, creative writing. She writes regularly over at Simple Slow & Lovely, and you can also connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.

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2 comments on “Productivity and Busyness Are Not The Same Things

  1. I’m new to this blog but it’s so relevant to my life. As a nurse if you’re not ‘busy’ then you’re not doing your job. So … my intention for today: be purposeful not running like a rat on a wheel getting nowhere. Thanks so much for your lovely insights

  2. Hi Carolyn! I’m so glad you found A Life in Progress. Krista’s knowledge and encouragement is fantastic! There are so many great free resources so make sure you check them all out! I feel privileged to contribute to her community.
    Wow I imagine being a nurse must be right up there with one of the busiest jobs. But yes, I can also imagine that you might also fight with the need to look busy too! Good luck with being a little bit more intentional every day 🙂

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