There's a big difference between being busy and actually being productive. Oddly enough, being busy often feels good because it's familiar and it makes us feel productive. Productivity may feel good, but sometimes making true progress means giving up that feeling. Photo by Kamil Porembiński.
Sometimes, making real progress means focusing less on your busy work, even if you fall behind, and doing things you don't feel you have time to do.
I face this problem often. For example, I've been meaning to read a book I think would help with my writing and also make for a solid, useful article. The problem is, of course, I'm too busy. Squeezing in that book means throwing a wrench in my whole schedule and routine. Spending an afternoon reading instead of keeping busy feels unproductive, so I've put it off. Meanwhile, I'm sticking to my schedule and I feel productive, but I'm giving up an opportunity to learn and grow, in a way.
Over at Harvard Business Review Peter Bregman offers a similar example using one of his clients, and here's his take on the matter:
Sometimes you need to be irresponsible with your current challenges in order to make real progress on your future self. You have to let the present just sit there, untended. It's not going away and will never end. That's the nature of the present….Even though Sanjay is delighted at the idea of focusing on his future self, he resists it because it doesn't feel as good as solving his current challenges. He isn't as skilled at it yet. That's why it's his future.
Yes, sometimes embracing your "future self" means putting your current tasks and obligations on hold. As tough as it can be to pause your routine and do something unfamiliar, it helps to look at the bigger picture.