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.