Productive vs. Busy

Before I had even landed in China from my trip in the US, a fellow violinist in Hangzhou was asking if I wanted to be in his string quartet.

“We would need to take photos and get recording of ourselves to get gigs, but I’m sure it would work,” he said. I could tell that he was very serious about violin. His profile picture was a professional shot of him cradling his instrument, and every post he made was violin-related. Professional gigging for him would be, well, professional.

About 2-3 years ago, I would have responded with a quick “yes!” and entered the fray, balancing all of my other commitments with coffee and rattly late nights.This time, I said I’d be happy to be a substitute, but that the answer was no.

(“What!” I can almost hear some of my music friends saying, “How could you refuse such a great opportunity? How defeatist! Where’s your sense of adventure?”)

Sometimes I feel like there’s a lot of pressure to “seize the day” and say yes to every opportunity that comes along. It’s the message I grew up with in school, that “opportunity waits for no one” and that if you wait too long, it will disappear and never come back. There is absolutely truth in that, but what I’m increasingly discovering is that “seizing the day” is not about taking every single opportunity that appears, but seizing the best opportunities that will lead you to where you want to be. It’s in part letting go of things, in part making yourself available for the opportunities you want to seize.

In this article from Lifehack, Conor Neill highlights the difference between busy and productive people. Of the 11 differences, mentioned, one sticks out most to me: “Busy people say yes quickly; productive people say yes slowly.” I should mention that when he says “productive” people he doesn’t mean soulless machines, but rather people that are able to achieve their goals, whatever they are. He says “If you don’t say “no” to most things, you are diving [sic] your life up into millions of little pieces spread out amongst other people’s priorities.” I think this is really important.

Contrary to what our society tells us, refusing things and saying no is actually the great secret to accomplishing what we want to set out to do. It’s easy to hitch onto something that’s already moving and then shrug your shoulders when it lands in the wrong place. It’s much, much, harder to wait for the right ride to come along and take it all the way to the end. The difference is responsibility. You don’t feel responsible when your thousands of tasks keep you from finishing your goal. You feel very responsible when you really turn to face that goal and make active efforts to reach it.

Anyone reading this blog knows perfectly well that I do take chances and take advantage of opportunities that come my way. But with the new year in full swing, I’m aiming to be less busy, and more productive, to actually make conscientious steps toward the places I want to go. Maybe this means letting go of certain things, like that quartet, or even an opportunity to go to Morocco (though that “no” was mainly because I straight-up didn’t have the money). I told myself on January 1st: “Do better.”

Do better.

I already know what I want/need to improve in my life and I think many of us do, too. It’s just a matter of making those conscientious steps and agreeing to stop hiding behind busy-ness and begin being productive.



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