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

August 2019

  Before 1998, a 40-hours 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 five hours and have seven hours to rush around commuting 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. 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 did we get to the stage where everyone feels 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 something we need to action. In fact, about 50% of email replies are sent within an hour, which is a very quick turnaround time to keep up to. It is easy to see why technology can be disruptive. 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. It’s fair to say that people may feel busier because they also want to incorporate all of these other personal tasks into the working day too.  

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

At Fora, 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 breakout areas for relaxing, and we design our offices to make sure they never feel overcrowded. Let’s look at other 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 try to help our Residents take care of the smaller tasks using the Fora app. It makes booking boardrooms, checking guests in and using benefits quick and easy to do.   Make time for play 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 games 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, and what’s important is not letting them turn into wasted days or 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 do exercise. 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 for making a brain-function boosting tea.  

Get productive at Fora

At Fora we understand there’s life beyond the desk and we’re here to help you live it. We want you to stay productive while enjoying your downtime. Visit our workspaces across London and Reading to see how we help our members stay focused through clever design, quality wellness facilities and unbeatable service.