Busy Vs. Productive: Too Much of the Wrong Stuff is Bad for You
By Shannon Rivera

A few years ago my family moved from sunny San Diego to the middle of nowhere Tennessee. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed many aspects of this move. Gas is cheaper, housing is more affordable, and there is a certain charm to the ‘country’ lifestyle. However, one of the biggest perks for me has been the drop in busy work. Before we moved from California, I was involved in dozens of extra activities on top of the busy mother/teacher life. If there was something to volunteer for, I was there. But the more I piled on my plate, the less room I had for the activities and things that really mattered to me. In fact, those things usually got shoved off the plate first and then it was a mad scramble to figure out just how I had dropped the ball, especially with the things that mattered to me the most.

Flash-forward to today and I find myself in a much different situation- well, mostly. First, yes, I still home school. This does take up a significant portion of my schedule. After all, I have four kids and each of them is in a unique stage of learning. Yet, after eight years of homeschool, we have found our rhythm and what works for us. It is, in fact, the easiest part of my life because I have made it a priority and because I have become very adept at scheduling and organizing for efficiency. Second, I amstill in school myself (only for one more month, though!) Having spent the first decade of my adult life in the Navy, I didn’t get a chance to go to school until after I got out of the service. And even then, I did six months of college while in California but it wasn’t until we moved away from San Diego that I was able to think about doing it full time. I started back in 2013 to finish my degree in Creative Writing and English. Now, this part of my life requires just as much time as home school. Add on top of all that my motherly and wifely responsibilities- bills, housecleaning, shopping, and general management of a home and family- that leaves little room for other things. So for the last two years, while I have been managing home school and college, I have purposely and adamantly refused to do anything extra that could take away from either my teaching responsibilities or my student responsibilities.

And yet I always have other things vying for my time and attention, something that has not gone away with my move. Of these other things, I have had to pick and choose which ones can fit into my lifestyle and schedule without negatively impacting the most important jobs in my life. Once a week from September-December and February-April, I teach writing classes to middle and high school students. Since my children attend this extra-curricular co-op and I am already there with them, it only made sense for me to teach and use my time there to help, not just the writers in my family, but other kids who love writing. Additionally, over the last few months, I have added the responsibility of writing on my blog. For now, I churn out one reflective writer’s post a week and one short story post a week. This has given me the chance to make a slow transition to the field I will be working in after I graduate in June. Since I will be writing full-time, it made sense to me to start part-time writing to get myself acclimated to the field.

Because I have all these things taking up my attention, my work on my book series has slowed to nothing. I read through notes and fill in my planning workbooks once a week, but I have not allowed myself to work on my novel because I know I cannot give it the attention it deserves. Once I graduate, that large portion time used to study and write for school will be directed to my novel and blog writing.

Getting to the end of this list, you might think- GOOD GOD, THIS WOMAN IS CRAZY… AND BUSY. How in the world is she productive?! I thought you were talking about not being busy. You sound really busy.

No. I am not busy, I am productive. I don’t do busy work. I plan, organize, prioritize, and complete my daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. I have a core group of responsibilities- family, school, writing- and I don’t stray from that. I set goals for myself in each area of my life and I make plans to meet those goals. Productivity is about managing your time in the most efficient way possible. You can have a lot to do and still be productive. It is all about how you manage your time.

Of course, it is also about learning your own limitations. Not everyone can do what I do. I know that because half the time I can’t do what I do. And if I do manage to get everything done in my day, week, month, or year that I planned, there are ten-thousand things that weren’t on my list that I wished I had made time for but didn’t. The truth is- whatever you make a priority that is what you will get done. Being busy just means doing a bunch of things. Those things are rarely the activities that you need to get done, nor are they the things that you really want to get done. Busy work is shuffling through your emails and playing on Facebook. It is scrolling through Instagram and laughing over Vines. Busy is watching television instead of writing your book. It is playing apps instead of reading to your children. It is the thousand distractions that keep us from what we really want to do- be a better parent, a better student, a better writer. Busy is distraction and excuses. Being productive is managing all those things on your plate by removing the unnecessary and non-essential items. It is placing your life in order of ‘what is the most meaningful to me right now’ and then making time for those things. Everything else is BUSY WORK.

Yes, I have a lot of responsibilities as a mother of four who has chosen to home educate. I have a husband that is gone most days of the week. I do the cooking and cleaning with my kids help, of course. I am in charge of the finances and the physical needs (clothing, entertainment, medical, etc.) of everyone in my house. Add to that the stress of doing full-time school and full-time writing and something is bound to slip off my plate. But I have learned to prioritize hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly. I have also learned to be flexible. Sometimes the plans I make don’t hash out how I imagine. That’s okay. I go back to the scheduling board and try to figure it all out again, every day, all the time. When I need a break, I take vacations and then get right back to it.

We have to learn to say no to things; to decide what really matters to us and do those things instead of the ‘busy’ things. There is never enough time to do everything, so we must prioritize and decide what is worth our time and what isn’t. That is the difference between being busy and being productive.

About Shannon

I am a full-time author of Urban Fantasy Fiction novels and Fiction short stories in all genres. I am also a full-time mother and teacher. Connect with me!


  1. After reading your post I’m feeling … exhausted 😉 I really don’t know how parents get anything done, let alone writing a novel, or even a short story, while studying!!!. For me, I’ve decided that perfectionism is evil. This helps me to get things done (like the housework) to a ‘good enough’ standard and free up more time for writing,

    • Shannon

      I am feeling exhausted too, Aderyn! Thank goodness it is almost the weekend. I take at least one solid day off of ‘work’ a week as well. Even if I have stuff to do, I don’t. I make sure to get my work done Monday-Saturday or Sunday-Friday. I give myself that break day to just relax and hang out with the husband and kids. I have found that a ‘day off’ really helps improve my efficiency. And, yes, as you pointed out, getting away from the idea of perfection. When I was younger I would run myself ragged trying to make everything in my house perfect. At the time, I only had two kids and I was a single parent in the Navy. Needless to say, I was always exhausted trying to keep my house up to a perfect standard while being super mom and a star worker. I have since learned that the most important thing isn’t perfection- it’s unattainable anyways (unless you are a millionaire). Good enough is how we play it here (except maybe with my writing!)

    • Shannon

      I mentioned in reply to Tamara that I do a calendar/post-it note system. It can be overwhelming sometimes, so I tend to use this system during the busiest times of the year. I will also use 24me and To-Do apps on my phone, but those are mostly a distraction. Nothing beats an organized personal calendar (at least for me).

  2. kind of random question–do you make to-do lists? and if so do you keep them on your phone or do you use handwritten notes? I used to have a to-do notebook when my responsibilities were more varied and i couldn’t get by without it. something about physically writing things down helped organize and, as you say, prioritize

    • Shannon


      I mainly use a mix of calendar systems and post-it notes (color coordinated). I keep a physical calendar (portable size) with my appointments and larger due dates for school work or work in general. My daily and weekly activities are organized on an eraser board calendar with post-it notes. Red is top-priority then it goes down the color scheme to least important. The items I don’t complete in the week are shuffled back in with the next weeks items and if they become priority I make a new post-it note. I do use apps and the calendar on my phone as well for redundancy, but I prefer paper.

  3. Ah, I’m not as busy as you, but I can relate. I’ve been shuffling my schedule lately to better manage my time. I have to remind myself that you can’t “make more time.” Time is a set amount per day and I just need to decide how I want to spend it.

    I have three kids, the oldest(3) of which I will be homeschooling this fall. We’ve started some things already just to get her used to sitting still and learning and me used to finding time to teach.

    On top of that I’m finishing up my first book, working on a second, planning out my garden for the summer, and all of the daily mom/wife stuff that I’m sure you know about! I need to mow my lawn this weekend, track down a wasp nest, get my septic tank pumped, an eye exam scheduled. I’m also the financial guru, so every week I spend a day sorting out my budget and what goes where.

    I also lead an online writer’s group, have a blog and a handful of social media accounts for my author life. Aaaand this is where I can relate. If I sat here and listed everything I do/have to do on a weekly/daily basis I’d probably get the same feeling when I was done, where everyone would be blinking and going, “Wow . . . she’s busy.”

    Sometimes I feel busy, sometimes I just feel like I’m going through life. It does mean cutting out things that I may enjoy or just “busy work” things that help me just have some down time. But I’m feeling way more productive lately and things are finally starting to come off my list.

    I can’t imagine having college on top of everything! So wow, kudos to you. And I’m not nearly as organized. I don’t have a list or a schedule or anything. I just have a mental “this is the most important on my to-do list” that I run and whenever I’m not taking care of the kids I pull something off that list.

    Great post, and considering my recent reevaluation of my time, it was even more interesting for me.

  4. Ah darn internet. So I typed up a nice long comment for you and then it didn’t send for some reason. On a post about making good use of your time, it sucks when you spend time on something that fails!

    I’m winding down for the day, so I won’t retype it all for you, but in abbreviated response, I hear you!

    I’ve recently shuffled my schedule to change how I’m spending my time to be more efficient. I have three kids(6 months, 2, and 3) and my oldest is going to be homeschooled this fall. We’ve started on some things already to get used to it.(her sitting down and learning, and me allotting time to teaching)

    I write, cook, sew, garden, handle the finances, and do all the other day-to-day SAHM stuff. So I definitely understand part(I’d say you’re busier) of where you’re coming from and the importance of taking advantage of the time I’m given.

    Can’t make time, time is always 24 hours in a day. All I can change is how I spend it and I had to laugh when I stumbled across this post when I’ve spent the past two weeks figuring out how to be more productive with my time.

    • Shannon


      You sound amazingly productive. And somewhat busy. 😀 As a mother, I completely understand. There are times in our lives when we are managing everyone’s lives (and by everyone I mean spouse and children on top of our own.) I do feel happy that I have managed not to have a breakdown more than twice while I have been back in school. The light at the end of the tunnel is now three weeks closer and I will officially be done June 7th!

      I will tell you, though, I am pretty sure I recycle 80% of my post-it notes in my system. I guess it is the idea that counts, right?!

      Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment 😀

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