Many of us complain about how busy we are.

  • Too busy to get that resume done.
  • Too busy to reconnect with old colleagues.
  • Too busy to write that article.
  • Too busy to sharpen those public speaking skills.

It’s easy to be too busy. But that doesn’t mean you’re productive.

When you find yourself so busy that you can’t be productive, you’re undermining and cheating yourself. You are taking time away from goals—teaching your child to read, spending quality time with your spouse, elevating your career to new heights, learning a language, paying your mortgage or rent, exercising, or just recharging your batteries.

What’s the difference between busy and productive?

  • Being busy just eats up your time, leaves you exhausted, and gives you nothing to show for it.
  • Being productive moves you toward a goal.

It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re being productive when, in fact, you’re just busy. In my world of strategic counseling and resume writing for lawyers, I see clients confuse busy-ness with productivity all the time. Here are three of the most common areas.

Compulsively re-editing resumes and LinkedIn profiles? Busy work! Yes, you want these documents to be the best they can be. But there reaches a point of diminishing returns. Spending 50 hours reworking your resume or profile will not be anymore productive than 5 to 10 hours on the same task. In fact, as you continually second-guess yourself, the focus and quality of those documents will likely drop. You need to have a fresh eye and a fresh target in mind. A more productive strategy would be to review, re-target, and revise these documents quarterly.

Applying only online through job boards? Busy work! It’s reported that job boards are among the worst ways to find new opportunities. This is not to say that no one finds work through job boards; of course people do. But because it’s so easy to apply for jobs this way (admit, that’s why you’re doing it too!), your targeted resume has to compete with hundreds or thousands of irrelevant resumes for the attention of the overloaded employer. Go for quality time rather than quantity time. A more productive strategy would be to reduce the amount of time on job boards, and instead to network for opportunities.

Joining tons of professional and personal organizations? Busy work! Membership in organizations is good. It keeps you up-to-date. But it also gives you the illusion that you’re more involved than you are. A passive member of an organization isn’t leveraging the power of that organization by, for example, meeting other members or being on the cutting edge of thought leadership. A more productive strategy would be to join the leadership ranks of two or three of those organizations, whether volunteering your time on a committee, or writing for their publications, or becoming an officer.

Again, these are just three common examples. Each of us has our own challenge of identifying and eliminating busy work. So here’s an action plan for you: As you go through your week, re-evaluate all your activities. Ask yourself which one of your goals each activity is serving, especially when you feel overwhelmed. Track down all those activities that serve no goal and that suck time, energy, and other resources away from things that are meaningful to you. And then get rid of as much of that busy work as possible.

Make the change from being busy to productive now. Because your competition already has.