Are you busy or productive? And what’s the difference?

June 2020

Before 1998, a 40-hour working week would have felt like a breeze. Yet despite working fewer hours on average, we seem to feel busier than ever. So what’s going on?

‘Work eight hours, sleep eight hours and have eight hours for fun’ – If only. Our 21st century lives are more ‘work 12 hours, sleep six hours, commute two hours and have four hours to rush around bathing children and getting menial tasks done’. But does this need to be the case?

People across Europe and the US are actually working fewer hours than they did in the 1960s and 1980s. Yet we feel as though we’re busier than ever and don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done. Where our current generation of workers seems to be going wrong is confusing being busy with being productive.


Busy or productive?

Being busy is having a big ‘to do’ list, whereas productivity means having a big ‘done’ list. The key difference is your actual ability to ‘get stuff done’. We may feel busy because we don’t manage to take a lunch break, always leave work late and never find the time to read. Feeling productive, on the other hand, is when we’ve got lots done and managed to steal an hour or so to do something we genuinely enjoy. We know which option we prefer. So how do we get to a place where we’re achieving what we need to achieve without feeling snowed under?


Technology tribulations

People do tend to pin a lot of the world’s evils on technology but there is real evidence behind how it’s affecting attitudes to work. Emails may have opened up an easy way to communicate, but they can make us feel swamped. A seemingly endless stream of messages makes us feel like we constantly have an ever-growing list of things we need to action. In fact, about 50% of email replies are sent within an hour, which is a very quick turnaround time to maintain. To combat this, try blocking out time in your day solely for going through emails, then try not to dip in and out of your inbox outside of this window.

Having emails constantly invading our screens isn’t the only problem – social media and all the enticements on the web play a part too. In an eight-hour working day, the average person is only productive for around three hours. Research suggests reading news websites takes up 1 hour and 5 minutes, while checking social media takes 44 minutes out of our days. People may feel busier because we feel we have to incorporate all of these other personal tasks into the working day to ‘keep on top of things’.


Culture shift

Busy is the new successful. We’ve moved away from the old proverb ‘the busiest men have the most leisure’, which suggests the most productive people find the time to have fun. Today, being busy is almost a status symbol – a way to say you’re important because people and work need you. However, when tasks get on top of us and we’re not achieving what we want every day, it can make us feel inadequate and ashamed.


A new working day

Fora’s mission in to create the most productive working environments. We believe people should stop associating busyness with the pinnacle of our social and professional lives. Instead we champion a healthy balance. Our workspaces have quiet zones for concentration along with more lively breakout areas for relaxing and brainstorming. We design our offices to make sure they never feel overcrowded, and programme a whole host of events and meet-ups so you can take time out of ‘deep work’ to expand your horizons. Let’s look at the ways people can break the busy cycle and become more productive:


Get to know your biological prime time

In his book, Work the System, Sam Carpenter explains that everyone has their own productive times in the day when energy levels and concentration peak. By tracking your focus throughout the working day for a week, you can work out at what times you’re most likely to be productive. Use your own biological prime times to schedule the more difficult or larger tasks for when you’re most productive and save the smaller jobs for your natural downtime.

It also helps to group together smaller tasks. Constantly dipping out of a major project to book a train ticket eats into your productivity. By doing all the small tasks as one, you’ll stop getting distracted by them. We help our Residents take care of the smaller tasks using the Fora app. It makes booking boardrooms, checking guests in and contacting your concierge quick and easy to do.


Make time for play

This is a really important one. Although parents often worry they’re not spending enough time with their children, research shows we spend significantly more time at home than previous generations. Perhaps we feel this separation because we’re not spending as much quality time with our loved ones and are instead trying to get more tasks done, even at home.

Making time for ‘play’ could be the answer. All humans are programmed to play, not just children. It helps relieve stress and is even linked to brain function. Plus, it forces us to solve problems and think creatively, which are important skills for productivity at work. Having a game of Scrabble or cards is a great way of enjoying time off while also helping to focus when we are on-duty.


Don’t give up

One of the most productivity-crushing mindsets is when we beat ourselves up for not getting much (or as much as we’d hoped) done. We all have bad mornings or slow days, but what’s important is not letting them turn into slow weeks. When your productivity slumps, take your mind away from work completely – and that also means away from menial personal tasks.

Exercise can really help by giving us a physical challenge and building our self-esteem. Fora’s buildings incorporate wellness suites with space and equipment to exercise at your leisure. This helps our members escape and reach their personal goals while getting into the right mindset for work. If exercise isn’t appealing, simply taking yourself away from your desk and having a hot drink can help your mind relax and reset. At Fora workspaces, we always have fresh mint and ginger on hand for making a brain-function boosting tea.


Get productive at Fora

Fora understands there’s life beyond the desk and we’re here to help you live it. We want you to stay productive while enjoying those all-important breaks so we create spaces that consider the entire person and the entire day – not just ‘work’ time.

Visit our workspaces across London and Reading to see for yourself how we help our members stay achieve their best through clever design, quality wellness facilities and unbeatable service.