girl writing on notebook by laptop
Adulting,  Education

On Being Busy vs. Productive

Featured Photo by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

I’ve noticed a trend in the last couple years where everyone wants to appear busier than the next person. We’re at the point that so many people are busy but nobody feels productive. That’s because they’re not. Somewhere along the line, the two terms became synonymous. Today, we’re going to debunk that thought process! 

I fell trap to this when I first started college in 2014. It was essentially “cool” to always look busy in college, especially since I was a pre-med science major. The first two semesters were pretty good. However, things took a turn during my third semester. I took organic chemistry that semester. For anyone that doesn’t know, you’ll probably have an easier time learning a foreign language. I received my first “D” in a course. The following semester, I couldn’t take organic chemistry 2. This put me behind a whole year in my chemistry courses. All because I was busy, not productive. 

Take it from me: be productive, not busy. I wasn’t using my time efficiently and I wasn’t effectively studying information. This was partially due to my natural abilities growing up which led to me not understanding how to study. 

I even started to fall back into the same habits when I started back to school in January. I’m in an online program so I do the readings, write up the assignments, and do everything on my own schedule. It was a difficult transition because I was working 2 jobs, taking 3 classes, and trying to fill this busy persona that I built for myself. 

What It’s Like to Be BUSY 

When you live a busy life, you’re always on the go. Whether you’re going to work, the gym, school, you’re going somewhere and you have to be there in five minutes. Someone who is busy is always running late. They forget things and have to go back for them. They spend too much time planning out their time that they don’t have enough time to actually accomplish the planned tasks. They’re always starting something, but they almost never finish anything. If they do, it’s a school assignment that’s due at 11:59 pm that night and it’s 11:45 pm when they’re submitting it. 

Being busy in college means signing up for 5 organizations that require your presence at least once a week if you want to be involved. It means sitting in the library with friends pretending to do schoolwork while you catch up on the gossip. It means going to a coffee shop so you can take an Instagram photo with your iced coffee, laptop, and your planner. It’s constantly updating your social media to look like you’re living your best college life while getting a 4.0 GPA. Maybe you do have that 4.0, but many people only pretend like they do. 

When you’re living a busy life, you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere. That’s because you really aren’t. You’re too focused on sharing what your life appears to be rather than actually creating the life you want to live or the life you’re meant to live. You’re probably adding new things to your to-do list everyday but not actually checking anything off. You might even have a beautiful bullet journal for all of your lists. But then you probably spend too much time making it look aesthetic that you don’t actually use it for the intended purpose. 

What It’s Like To Be PRODUCTIVE 

Someone who is productive is busy but with a purpose. They manage their time efficiently. They spend time planning out their time, but that’s not the bulk of their time. Somebody that’s productive knows how to prioritize their to-do list. They work on things as they’re assigned rather than waiting to start an assignment that’s due the following day. 

Many times, someone who is productive will sit down with the intention of finishing a particular task. They don’t quit until that task is done. Sometimes, they don’t even quit then. They start a new one and repeat the process. 

Someone who’s productive might still share the things they’ve finished. But they’re the people that are living the life in front of them, not the highlight reel of social media. They’re the people who take a couple pictures and move on with their life. Someone who’s productive is someone that seems to be active in everything they do. There are people who wonder how these people make it possible. The answer is that they’re productive, not just busy. 

Workaholic Culture 

In many cases, people who are busy and people who are productive are both seen as workaholics. The people around them don’t truly know whether or not people are getting their tasks done. Social media has made productivity into a competition, which resulted in the desire to be busy. 

This culture makes people think they have to share when they’ve finished a task. It’s made people think that looking busy is the same as being productive. The ideals of workaholic culture are toxic. The competition isn’t healthy. There’s no reason one person should be “better” than someone else because they don’t seem as “busy” as they are. There’s no reason someone should be considered a “slacker” because they aren’t sharing their to-do list on social media and updating every time they add to it or check something off. 

It’s time we realize what social media has done to us. Not everything is a competition. Things like schoolwork are meant to foster collaboration (when professors condone it, of course!). The intention behind social media is to bring us closer to our friends, family, and even strangers than we’ve ever been before. But we can’t grow and develop together if we’re letting social media pit us against each other. 

I hope you have found my mini-rant useful and helpful! If you feel attacked by the first part of this post, don’t feel bad. I wrote it and I still felt attacked. That used to be me. Somewhere along the line, I figured out the difference. I overcame the desire to look busy and became a master of productivity. Okay, maybe we won’t go that far! But I’ve figured out enough to be able to balance my time between schoolwork, my job, my relationship, being a dog mom, and starting my blog. If I can overcome the busy aesthetic, you can too! That’s all it is: an aesthetic. Let me know if you’d like to hear more about my journey from busy to productive; I would love to share! 

Until next time, keep up with me on social media: InstagramTwitterPinterest


  • Steff

    You are so right! Being productive will help you reach any goals you may have, where as being busy will just leave you feeling flustered and that your goals are unobtainable!

    • Arianna

      Thank you for the comment! I really think people forget about the distinction between the two and that’s why so many people are busy without actually accomplishing anything.

  • Kate

    You are completely right! I can make myself busy during an entire day and achieve nothing or, I can spend a couple of productive hours wisely and achieve a goal or write a blog post etc. There’s a difference and it’s so important to acknowledge that when prioritising our time.

    Kate |

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