“I’m so busy! I just haven’t had time to write all year!”
I … understand where people are coming from when they say things like this to me. I really do. For me, college was a seemingly endless whirlwind of things piled on top of things piled on top of a long-forgotten five-year plan. I was busy. I convinced myself I did not have time to finish a book, or hang out with friends every weekend, or keep up with my blog.
I remember what it feels like to look at all the things you’ve filled your life with and realize you “don’t have time” (or energy, or sanity) for the things you really want to do.
But what most people do not seem to gather from any of this is that they’re using their empty busyness to cover for their lack of productivity. And there’s really nothing I can do to help them until they decide they want to be productive, instead of going on and on about how “busy” they are.
Yes — there is a difference between being busy and being productive.
Busyness is everyone’s favorite excuse for not doing the things they want/need to be doing. It’s an elaborate practice of filling your calendar with things you don’t really intend to take seriously. When you tell people you’re too busy to write, you probably COULD be writing — but instead you’re doing other things, and also, you’re leaving room for “down time” on top of that. (Maybe.)
Productivity implies you’re using your time wisely. You’re getting things done. You’re working toward your goals, even when accomplishing small tasks. And there’s no room to use this time as an excuse for not following through, because being productive also implies you have an “off” switch. You can’t be productive every hour of every day. You don’t have to be. And that’s how you remain productive, consistently.
Let’s think about attitude for a second here. When you tell someone you’re “so busy,” it’s very rarely presented positively. It’s a complaint. And it’s always framed as “I’m too busy to do x.” And that probably, honestly, makes you feel pretty awful about yourself.
Yet when you tell someone how productive you’ve been lately, it’s ALWAYS optimistic. It’s self-praise (not bragging, unless you go out of your way to constantly reiterate how productive you are … I’ve unfollowed most of those Facebook friends). You’re proud of your accomplishments — and that makes you feel awesome. And it probably motivates you to do even more, some days.
A lot of motivation comes from a positive outlook. That’s not enough to actually get something done — you still have to sit down and do it. But many people need that initial rush, that drive to be productive, to actually be productive.
If you want to take your writing more seriously, stop being “busy” and start being productive. Block out specific time(s) throughout your day to write. Technically, you can fill the rest of your day with whichever activities you want to. But if you’re too busy to get your work done, there’s something wrong with the way you’re structuring your schedule.
We all have to work, run errands, clean, make phone calls, and take care of family/friends/pets.
We all also have things we like to do to relax, like reading books, gaming, and watching Netflix.
Oh, and also — we all sleep, and cook/eat.
So how does someone manage to do all these things, plus write a novel or freelance or blog on the side?
We stop complaining about how busy we are. And we stop busying ourselves with things that make us miserable. There are the things we have to do (like our day jobs), the things we want to do (play video games), and then the projects we want to work on but aren’t required to commit to (writing a novel).
Keep writing that novel in that space between “have to” and “want to.” But make it a productive project. The added benefit of spending your time working toward a goal (finishing that book) is that you might almost become addicted to that feeling you’ll get afterwards.
Busyness feels bad. Productivity feels like magic.
So, instead of filling your schedule with “things” this week, figure out a few ways you’re going to promote productivity in your life. Even mundane tasks like doing laundry can fall under the productivity umbrella if clean clothes mean you can go on to do other things, for example.
When you start to feel “busy,” take a long look at your calendar. Why do you feel that way? What is your “busyness” taking away from you? Are there busying tasks you can turn into elements of productivity? Are there things you can stop doing, or do less of, to free up more writing time?
You’re not too busy to write. Not if writing simply becomes a fixed element in your day/week. Bundle it in with your productive tasks and do all you can to cross it off the list.
And then … go eat some ice cream and relax. Because productivity deserves sugar and a nap.
I know what it’s like to feel “too busy.” I’ve been there.
But my excuses kept me away from writing for a long time. And I felt guilty about that almost daily.
Don’t let that happen to you.
Choose productivity. Walk away from your busy life for good.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.