3 Boundaries to remove to achieve productive from busy

Busy is the new fashion trend for everyone.  Just ask anyone, “how are you?” or “How was your day?” and the standard reply is “Busy” and if “busy” is not good enough, its “very busy”.  If you were to ask, how productive have you been? There would usually be a short moment of silence and then a frown and then after a pause, the reply would either be “just busy” or “not very productive sadly”.  That’s right, busy is the buzz word for everyone.  Busy is not just a buzz word, it has become an identity for some.    Sadly, some people wear “Busy” as an honour badge.

Let’s start this journey by addressing 3 boundaries that we need to overcome.  The first two boundaries have to do with who and how we define ourselves and the value that we place on our output and the third is to help get the process going by providing you with reminders on how to get to the road of productivity.

Why are people busy?

The main reason is that there is just so much more things to do, more accurately the variety of things that needs our attention have exponentially increased.  If we were to compare with what work looks like today vs. what work looked like 50 years ago, the differences are vast.  Technology has played a big part in that. 

Today, technology has literally caused the “always on” generation.  People are always connected, and work is taking place somewhere in the world at any point of time, with time differences and distances no longer barriers.  In fact, depending on what work you are doing, you could be working at night because your customer is at work in another country.  As a result, the only way that you can keep your head above the water is to work longer and harder.  You feel the pull to do more and fill whatever time slot you have with more things to do.  You feel the pressure to keep up and keep going and ultimately not be left behind. 

Sadly, this has left many with just an empty feeling of busy, not knowing what they are achieving and certainly very little satisfaction with their work.  How can we change this?  Can we change this?  How do we break through the culture of busy and start to create a productive impact of your own?

The answers to the questions above are yes, we can change the situation and you are in control to change the narrative of your “busy” to productive and impactful.  Ultimately what we are all aiming for is to be producers of meaningful work that has a positive impact. 

The 3 boundaries that we need to overcome, and address are:

  1. Self:  Who do you identify yourself as?
  2. Security:  What is your identity or sense of security tied to?
  3. Strategy: What steps do you need to take to say no to the busy and yes to the productive?   

Let’s break it down and get to the heart of the issue.


Yes, that’s right.  We have to start by knowing ourselves first.  More specifically, your identity or how you identify yourself as?  Take this example when you are meeting someone for the first time.  You make the polite introduction, “I am Lisa.”  The next question would usually be “How are you?”  The most common answer is “I am good but busy.”  Often, how we introduce ourselves is how we perceive the situation and our assessment of what we perceive the summary of our day. 

Busy.  That is how you have associated your identity with.  You are not only your name but your title is busy.  The first place to start to change is to change that narrative.  Change how you identify yourself.  If you are not happy with being identified with busy, then you are in control to change that narrative.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you want to change from busy to productive?
  • How do you view or identify yourself?  Think about what you have said in the past.
  • To change, change the narrative.  What other words could you use to describe your day?
  • How else could you describe your work?
  • Have you taken a step back and reflect on what it is you are aiming for?

Essentially, it is easy for us to be busy because it is just about doing stuff in the limited amount of time that we have.  It requires no thought, no alignment or realignment, no intentionality.  You are just doing, and the doing keeps you busy.  In fact some people feel like a chicken running around without its head.

The first step to move out of busy to productive is to acknowledge that you are NOT defined by busy and busy is not a badge of honour to proudly wear.  You are NOT Busy, you are PRODUCTIVE.  You are intentional in how you spend your time and energy.  You are clear on the outcome that you want to achieve.  You are a person that has a clearly defined purpose and a set of priorities that you live by.  You align your activities with your goals with your purpose.


For those who wear the busy badge proudly has unconsciously over time placed their sense of security with the level of busy.  The busier I am, it must mean that the more valuable I am and therefore I have tied my security to the various level of busy.  Therefore, you will feel “better” the more busy you are or you are trying to outdo “busy” against someone else.

The sad and yet brutal truth is that no matter how busy you are, you are not any better than someone who is perceived as less busy.  Afterall, being busy simply means that you are filling up your time or schedule with tasks or activities, not really thinking about the outcome or output.  However, there is no job security in today’s world.  You could be most valuable employee today but next week you might not be.  The LIE that we have been led to believe is that there is security.  Jim Kwik in his book Limitless, defined LIE as Limited Ideas Entertained.  The LIE that surrounds the “the busy” security is that busy gives you value and security.

Once again, it takes very little effort or intentional decision making to be busy.  It does take more upfront thoughts and decision making to be productive.

Security is found in who you are and the skills and experiences that you have gained.  Your true security is knowing who you are.  And it is the who you are that leads to what you do.  What you do should always be to produce meaningful work. 

For example, if you have developed strong sense of who you are and your skills and strengths, you are able to use them in any role.  You are hired not because of your level of busy but based on you, your skills and experiences.   Therefore, as long as you continuously improve your skills and expertises you will find that your sense of security is not tied to your activity level.

You will need courage to break the boundaries of security because you will have to learn to say No and not be afraid of the consequences.  One of the reasons people do not say No, is because they are afraid of the potential consequences. 


Now that you have a clear sense of purpose and no long want to tie your sense of security with the busy badge, you will need to figure out what to do.  You need to have a strategy.  You need a plan.

Therefore, the strategy that you use will need to have a goal or an outcome, the action items that you will need to do and the timeline to achieve it.  There are so many reference materials that you can read to learn how to be productive.  One of the best books that I have read is Getting Things Done by David Allen.  He outlines 5 key principles to be productive and they are capture, clarify, organise, reflect, and engage.  This has helped me realised that just having a to-do list is not good enough and tools that you use is only as good as the clarity of your intent or purpose and having a system in place to reflect on what you are doing and to do the task that is required.  There are many more productivity “gurus” in the likes of Thomas Frank where you can learn the how-to be productive using various tools that are available like Notion. 

The important thing to note is that the ultimate strategy is one that suits you and one that you are able to be consistent with.  In fact, it does not matter what tools or applications that you use or which methods or morning routines that you follow. The one that is the best for you is the one that you are able to consistently use and follow.

In addition to the tools, methods and routines, I will suggest two additional parameters that are so often forgotten, and they are:  boundaries and mindset change. 


In order to get control of your “busy”, you must establish boundaries and priorities.  Boundaries of what to say yes and no to.  Boundaries around your work time and non-negotiables around your schedule.  To establish any boundaries or priorities you need to be clear on the purpose.  Without that clarity, you are not going to be able to establish clear and defined boundaries.  One of the critical components of boundaries is to not just set it up but to communicate and enforce the boundaries.  Other people will not know the boundaries that you have set unless you have communicated it to them and enforced it.  People will want to get whatever it is from you immediately, or to satisfy their priorities.  Enforcing boundaries demonstrates that you respect yourself, the boundaries that you have set and respect for the other person.

How do you do it?

A very common activity that drains our time from productive to busy is reading and replying to emails.  In fact, when we hear that beep or notification and see the little preview of the email pop up on the screen, we are naturally distracted and want to do something with it immediately.  However, by doing so, it not only robs you of your focus as you are now distracted, you are also now forgoing your priorities to respond to someone else’s priorities.  To establish your boundaries around replying to emails, it is about communicating your email response times such as “Thank you for your email.  I respond to my emails twice a day from 9am – 10am and 4pm to 5pm.  If it is urgent, please indicate on the Subject line the Urgent nature and when a response is required.”  This is a simple example of setting a boundary as to when they can expect an email response from you.  Setting and communicating that boundary is step 1.  The next step is to enforce it.  If you break your own boundaries and respond to emails outside of those hours, then you have basically saying to the people around you that you don’t respect your own boundaries and in turn why should they respect your boundaries.

Productive Mindset

If you have heard my previous podcast around Mindset, you will know that I am great proponent of a growth or empowering mindset.  Productivity is an outcome of having a mindset around focusing on the output and not just filling up the time with activities.

Tim Ferris’s quote “Focus on being productive instead of busy.”, implies that there is an intentional decision made to focus, and the goal is to be productive and not simply be busy. 

A productive mindset helps to focus and align your activities with the outcome or output.  Instead of thinking and saying to yourself, I am busy, think about the actions that you are doing and the outcome that you want to achieve.  It is in some ways, reframing your thoughts so that your actions can be aligned.  Change the narrative in your mind.  Change from a busy narrative to one that focuses on the outcome that is meaningful and productive.

For example, it could be as simple as meal preparation for the next 5 days for your family.  Therefore, instead of saying to yourself that “you are busy cooking”, you will now replace that with “I have prepared meals for my family for the next 5 days which means that I don’t have to worry about that for the rest of the week”.  You are now placing the outcome instead of focusing on the activity and how much time it has taken.

Pause and ask yourself:

  1. Are you busy just for the sake of being busy?
  2. How can you relook at your schedule and align it with your priorities?  Is there anything in the schedule that is not aligned and that I should be saying no to?
  3. What task can you redefine to view it through the lens of productive?  Describe its outcome that is aligned to those priorities.

Sometimes it could just be a simple realignment of your activities with your priorities and other times, you might have to make the tough call to stop it all together.  The steps to move from busy to productive starts with you, self, who you define yourself as, then to aligning your sense of security and finally to having a clear strategy to refocus on what is truly meaningful with a clear outcome that you want to achieve by establishing boundaries and changing your mindset.

What you do you think?  How have you been managing your busy? 

Share some of your life hacks to having a productive day.

I appreciate your support and hope that you have learned at least one new thing.  Let’s aim to step into the everyday with purpose.

Please subscribe, comment, like and share with your friends.   We are all in this journey of growth together.


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