Home » The Opposite of Busy is…Productive

The Opposite of Busy is…Productive

I’ve written a lot about how busyness is less a sign of significance or success than it is a sign of what researchers call “cognitive overload,” which (ironically) holds us back, keeping us from fulfilling our potential in any given realm.

But if we aren’t busy, are we lazy? Actually, plenty of research shows that people who are able to sustain high performance don’t let themselves get busy. Moreover, their not-busyness makes them much more productive than average.

But how, exactly, do highly productive people keep from feeling busy? They rest a lot, and they take a lot of breaks.

No matter how much we have going on, it is important for us to refuel the part of our brain that enables us to focus. Although it might feel scary to let yourself take a break, when you do so you’ll not only feel better — less overwhelmed, less harried, less paralyzed by your massive to-do list — but you’ll also become more creative and more productive.

Take Action: Today, take a good old-fashioned recess in the middle of the day. Go ahead and do your hardest or most dreaded work — or whatever you need to do — but after about an hour, take a break. Rest. Or go play.

Join the Discussion: What do you find relaxing or rejuvenating? Is there an article you’ve been wanting to read for fun? Does your most vivid fantasy involve a nap? Do you want to spend a few minutes looking at pictures of pretty living rooms on Pinterest? Perhaps you long to go outside into the great outdoors (or the plaza across from your office) and let the sun shine on your face. Just do it — and then tell us what you did here.

Photo by Colorvale Actions.


  1. cinnabuster says:

    I planted sunflowers this afternoon. I think the packet is two years old, but it was fun to get out some pots and soil and get some dirt under my fingernails. I love your thoughts on busyness vs productivity. Keep em up!

    • Christine Carter says:

      There is some interesting research about happiness and gardening — there is a biological reason/theory about why getting dirt under our nails is good for us. Fun!

  2. Carolyn Ellis says:

    Hi Christine

    I attended Wisdom 2.0 in San Fransisco and I’m presenting to two different groups this week on the conference. Your talk is the one that resonated with me the most and is the main topic of two presentations I am giving this week. In developing the presentation I’ve gained a greater understanding of how to combat my own busyness and have implemented a few of your ideas. It’s starting to make a difference to my life and to others around me so I’m looking forward to spreading the word to my wider network on Wednesday.

    PS If you’re ever heading over to New Zealand at any stage I’d love to catch up with you.

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