I know we often hear the admonishment not to be lazy. It’s as though a slower pace and a relaxed view of life is somehow frowned upon. Typically this seems to be more prevalent in Western culture and particularly in the United States. The ideas of being a workaholic is touted as a sign of a tireless worker dedicated to their job.

Busy Does Not Show Dedication

But there’s a subtle (or not so subtle) difference here. There’s certainly something to be said for being active and involved in your work. Yes, we want to make sure that our jobs are done well and we demonstrate our commitment, but that does not necessarily mean we are emailing our co-workers, bosses, or vendors back at 11PM on a Friday night.

The School Day Mindset

In an effort to avoid being labeled as lazy I think we become obsessed with appearing busy. That’s right. Appearing busy. It’s not that we’re doing great things, but instead we’re simply doing busy work. I remember in school how much I hated it when we were assigned busy work to complete at our seats. There was no point no purpose or if there was a purpose it was extremely minor. The work was merely an exercise to keep us busy.

I’m not advocating for laziness. In fact, I am often accused of being too busy. But in reality I try not to be busy but to be something else. Here is the key point. If you only take away one thing from today’s post I want you to remember this: Being busy is not the same as being effective.

Can I repeat that for emphasis? Just because you’re busy does not automatically mean you’re effective. Sure you can quickly fill up your day with menial tasks and responsibilities. You can create busy work for yourself to do. It may appear that you are being highly productive when in fact you may simply be busy. Being busy is not a badge of honor. Being busy doesn’t allow you to accomplish your goals. Being busy just means you’re tired and feeling overworked.

Why should we not be busy?

If we focus on being effective rather than being busy there will be several positive side effects which will result. The first is easy. Being effective rather than busy means you are placing your tasks in priority and accomplishing things relevant to your goals and ultimately your job. If you are filling your time with busy work you will leave yourself less time to do those truly important things which matter far more in the long term.

Your body needs a break

Secondly, if you aren’t forcing yourself to be busy by filling your hours with those unimportant time drains then you’ll find you have a clearer head. You will be able to relax when you’re not working and you’ll feel more refreshed. When you take the time your mind and body needs to recover from a long day (week) then you’ll feel more refreshed and energized to continue working effectively. Your productivity will increase as your busyness decreases. That’s a seeming paradox. The less busy you are the more effective you become. You’ll be spending your time doing those things which really matter.

Your priorities get misplaced

Lastly, when you fill your time with busy work you leave yourself very little time to be effective. You’ll feel constantly overwhelmed because you’re not “finding the time” to get the important things accomplished. Each day those important tasks will be the ones that get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list and then bumped from one day to the next when you ultimately run out of time. Your brain is smart and it knows doing the hard things are hard. They’ll take real brainpower. It’s much simpler and easier to fill the time with menial busywork.

No, don’t be lazy

I’m certainly not advocating laziness. And I realize that sometimes being busy and being effective are one and the same. Those times when you have incredibly tight deadlines or project due dates and it requires a ridiculous level of effort. But those are the exceptions to the rule. In general I recommend be effective not busy. Being busy is not a badge of honor. Being effective is. Accomplishing your goals and feeling that sense of accomplishment is what matters most.