Don’t Confuse “Activity” With “Productivity.”

Productivity is a popular word in the business world that is often used to push people to get as much done as quickly as possible. But, what does productivity really mean? It’s easy to confuse how active we are with how productive we are. For instance, it seems like we’re always on the go and doing something, but not necessarily getting stuff done. What gives? Well, the reality is that our activity level doesn’t necessarily dictate our productivity, and so, these two terms aren’t synonymous.

Productivity is the level of efficiency with which someone(s) can accomplish a task, often within a set period and measured by task completion. Comparatively, activity simply means someone has or is doing something regardless of efficiency or completion. Although these concepts are similar at first glance, there is much that sets them apart.

This article will clearly define productivity and activity, as well as explain how these two terms differ. You’ll also learn how to more accurately measure accomplishments in relation to your productivity and what steps you can take to become more productive, rather than being active and just doing more work.

What is Productivity?

So as not to promote any further confusion, we’re going to start by clearly defining the term “productivity” and what this means in the workspace.

Productivity is defined as the level of efficiency with which someone can accomplish a task. While there are usually a set of criteria attached to one’s productivity, such as promptness, it is overtly measured by a ratio of output versus input. By this, we mean does that amount of time, effort, and resources you put into the task weigh heavier than the task’s outcome.

If you find you are putting more into a task than you or a company is getting out of it upon completion, your efforts are not considered productive. Of course, how this is measured can vary by task and business. But, for the most part, the level of efficiency is the keyword that separates productivity from activity.

When you’re being productive, your actions are purposeful and aimed at achieving a specific result. But it goes beyond that. In order to be productive, you must achieve that goal and have done so according to the standards set out for the task (ex. submitted by a specific time or the task reaches a company quota). 

One could say that productivity is a way to know when you are finished with a task rather than constantly working with no end. This is because with productivity comes benchmarks that help you determine how effective you’re being. Without them, you’re simply being active.

What is Activity?

So, how does activity compare to productivity, and how can you determine which category your work falls under?

Essentially, activity means a task is being performed. There are no standards set upon the task like they are with productivity, so the individual doesn’t necessarily need to be working towards a specific goal or concern themselves with quality. As long as they are doing something, they are considered active.

Another term people tend to use instead of active is “busy.” Being busy merely means you are consumed with a task, but whether or not you’re actually being productive in that task can vary.

When you’re active, you’re focused more on doing than achieving. Productive individuals spend their time focusing on the outcome of their task in terms of the goal they’re trying to achieve or the quality of their outcome.

Comparatively, someone who is active is merely focusing on what they are doing at the moment. Oftentimes, their goal is just to finish their task rather than complete it well. This is where the output vs. input ratio comes in for productivity. Someone might complete a task quickly because they’re active, but their output doesn’t overweigh the input if the result is poor.

Why Is It Important to Understand the Difference?

It’s important to understand the difference between productivity and activity and how its relevance in any work setting.

Not only does knowing the difference between productivity and activity helps business owners and employees better understand the objectives and tasks they need to accomplish, but it also helps them communicate more effectively and promote the ideal work environment.

In order for a business to be successful, everyone involved must be productive. Otherwise, the quality of service is poor, deadlines aren’t met, and the business as a whole suffers. Everyone involved has to remember that being active and completing tasks isn’t the same as being productive. In order to be productive, you have to:

  • know the purpose behind every task
  • ensure everything you do is helping you work towards the tasks’ ultimate goal
  • output is of the highest quality
  • output overweighs input

Following these steps will help ensure you aren’t working for the sake of appearing busy but to be a contributing asset to your business. It will also help your time spent working be more meaningful and might even decrease the amount of time you spend on tasks by keeping that clear end goal in mind as you work.

How to Make Sure You’re Productive, Not Active

After looking at the two definitions we’ve provided for each of these terms above, you might be sifting through some of your past works and wondering how productive you really were versus busy. The lines between the two can definitely blur easily, and sometimes it takes a while for you to realize what you’re doing isn’t actually productive; you’re just doing something. So, how can we limit how often this happens?

Some tips to being productive versus just busy include:

  • Stay goal-driven and find the “One Thing.”
  • Prioritize tasks
  • Limit multitasking
  • Be a team player
  • Say “Yes” Strategically

Each of these tips can help limit wasteful activity and promote effective productivity instead. Let’s take a deeper look into each tip separately, so you can determine which you already utilize in your work strategy and which might be beneficial to adopt.

Goal-Driven and Finding the “One Thing”

This is arguably the most crucial element that will determine if what you’re doing is productive or active/busywork.

The “one thing” is a specific thing an individual needs to pinpoint that will enhance their results and promote productivity. When it comes to work, the “one thing” could be a tool you need to reduce busywork and help you accomplish tasks faster and yield higher quality. Alternatively, it could be whatever goal your company has assigned (ex. 15% increase in quarterly subscriptions) that keeps you focused as you complete tasks.

Remaining goal-driven and keeping that “one thing” in mind will help ensure your tasks have a purpose and you are constantly working towards these goals in the most effective manner possible for the best output.

Prioritize Tasks

There’s no doubt that most work atmospheres prioritize productivity as much as speed, and so, it’s easy for employees and business owners to become overwhelmed with tasks that seem to constantly pile up as the days go by.

When you have a giant list of tasks to complete, it might be difficult to find somewhere to start and have a productive day of work as you constantly jump from task to task. Sometimes, you even have to drop tasks halfway through as something else comes up. In these instances, we recommend the best plan of action is to write down all of your tasks in a list in order of the most pressing priority. This might be the assigned date of completion, relevance to the company, size of the task, etc.

Once you’ve settled on the one element that will help you prioritize these tasks, you can create an organized list and slowly work your way down the list from the most important to least pressing task. This will reduce work-related stress and increase productivity.

Limit Multitasking

Another common reaction to being overwhelmed with tasks in the workplace is for people to don their superhero costumes to multitask as much as possible and complete as many tasks as they can at once.

Unfortunately, multitasking is rarely productive because you aren’t dedicating enough thought and attention to each task that is necessary for them to be completed efficiently, so overall quality usually suffers.  Although you might feel like you are getting a lot done, this is most likely busy work that is merely complete and not a reflection of your best abilities.

It is far better to focus solely on one task at a time and put all of your time, energy, and resources into them individually and yield one superb outcome than to split all of that between multiple tasks and yield mediocre outcomes for each.

Be a Team Player

One thing people commonly forget when they’re working is that completing these tasks is a team effort. Yes, you will often be assigned a task your superiors expect you to do, but you are never alone.

A great way to improve productivity is to consult with other team members in the event that you’re struggling with a task, need inspiration, or simply want a helping hand. This can help reduce the time you spend agonizing over a task and getting nowhere.

If you’re a superior figure in your business, you can also delegate some of your tasks to another employee to help clear some off your agenda rather than drowning under the overwhelming list of things you have to do but can’t feasibly complete in a productive manner.

Not only will delegating the task to ensure someone else is putting all of their efforts into it, but it can ensure the other tasks you still have to complete receive your undivided attention and limits the urge to multitask. 

In the end, you all have the same goal for the business to succeed, and helping one another will help you both achieve that goal. 

Say “Yes” Strategically

This is another moment when it is tempting to dust off that superhero costume and do it all. Most of us don’t like to admit we can’t do something, or we’re far too altruistic and constantly want to help alleviate other people’s burdens. However, this increases the burden you place on yourself and leaves you with far more tasks than you can realistically complete.

Therefore, it’s important to say “yes” strategically in the workplace for the sake of your overall productivity. Taking on too many tasks becomes a dangerous game rather quickly. Before too long, you’ll find you have a massive list of things to do, and you’re struggling to prioritize them, let alone complete them. And if you can get any done, it usually isn’t your best work.

While it’s commendable to want to help others or take on an impressive workload, this approach severely inhibits productivity and quickly leads to other issues before too long. So, make sure you know your limits of what you can accomplish and only accept tasks if you’re certain you can complete them efficiently.


Activity certainly has its uses, but doing something simply to complete it isn’t considered a productive approach, which is what you strive for in the workplace. Productivity carries a weight of efficiency and quality you don’t get with activity, and knowing the difference between the two can make a world of difference in any work atmosphere.

Remember to utilize the tips we’ve stated here to make sure you’re always being productive rather than active, and ask yourself productive questions during tasks such as “is this helping me achieve my goal?” or “am I doing this as efficiently as possible?” If the answer is no, make some changes to promote your productivity and guarantee your tasks have the best outcome possible.