How to Be Productive without Being Busy

Does being busy equal being productive? The answer, of course, is no.

Regardless of what some people think, being busy and being productive are not the same. Some people can be busy without being productive, while some others can be highly productive without being busy.

How can that be?

The 80/20 rule provides an answer. The rule states that roughly 80% of the effects come from just 20% of the causes. For instance, 80% of wealth is owned by just 20% of the population, 80% of revenue comes from just 20% of customers, and so on. The numbers don’t have to be 80 and 20, and the sum doesn’t have to be 100, but you get the idea.

The same principle applies to personal productivity: 80% of your desired results come from just 20% of your possible activities.

This explains why some people are busy but not productive: they spend their time on the bottom 80% of activities that give them just 20% of the desired results. This also explains why some others are productive without being busy: they spend their time on the top 20% of activities that give them 80% of the desired results.

Being productive without being busy has many benefits:

  1. You will have plenty of time for your loved ones.
  2. You will have time to keep upgrading yourself (e.g., by reading books).
  3. You will have time for your hobbies.
  4. You will have time to enjoy life.

It’s a great way to live, isn’t it?

So, how can we do that? How can we be productive without being busy? Here are some tips:

1. Invest time in clarity.

To focus on the top 20% of activities, first you must identify what those activities are. Doing that requires clarity. You need to have clarity regarding your life purpose and priorities. Only then can you decide whether an activity is right for you or not.

So invest time in clarity. Make time every day to realign yourself with your purpose and priorities.

2. Be willing to let go of opportunities.

One reason why many people become busy is that they aren’t willing to let go of opportunities. They say “yes” to everything that looks good. As a result, they fill their lives with too many things.

But, as Rick Warren once said, you should say “no” to good opportunities so that you can say “yes” to the great ones. If you don’t let go of the good opportunities, you won’t be able to make the most of the great ones.

3. Focus on just a few things.

You should do just a few things that are right for you. The great thing about focusing your effort is that it will build momentum. You will experience acceleration that gives you more results for less effort.

But again: the key to choosing these few things is clarity (#1 above).

4. Beware of distractions.

There will be distractions along the way. If you aren’t careful, they can cause you to lose focus. You could end up spreading yourself too thin.

So beware of distractions. Yes, the right opportunities could show up from time to time, but there is a good chance that the wrong opportunities are actually what show up. Say no to them.

5. Set limits.

One way to force yourself to prioritize is to set limits. Clayton Christensen, for instance, decided to always go home by 6 pm. He could have filled his days with more work-related activities, but he chose to spend the time with his family instead.

An advantage of this approach is that he had to choose wisely how he used his time at work because he had a limited amount of it.

Similarly, you should set limits in your life. By setting limits, you will force yourself to prioritize.


I wish I could say that I have mastered the above points, but I’m still learning myself. I’m still on my way to becoming highly productive without being busy.

It’s an exciting journey though.


  1. Great advice and like you I am still learning !!

  2. Donald, it is so clear that tips are prepared carefully. Thanks for all of your interest.

  3. Boosting productivity each day is a help by itself. Most effective for the organization and you personally to actually track and get things done. Disorganized work ethic finally makes sure you clean it up at somepoint of time. You cannot run away from being an expert in time management from the fast paced world.

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