You’re better than busy.
Take control of your time, stop being overwhelmed, and get important work done.
The last time someone asked you how things are at work, I can likely guess your answer. Busy.
It’s the response I get more often than anything else. And it tells me a lot. It tells me that efforts are scattered. It tells me you’re overwhelmed. It tells me you’re not in control of your own time. It tells me you aren’t as happy as you could be. If you were, you’d tell me about it. You’d tell me about recent wins. You’d tell me how excited you are to solve the current challenge. You might even tell me that you’re scared or worried, but you’d have something specific to talk about. Busy is the opposite of that – busy indicates a lack of certainty, missing clarity.
Busy is a bad habit. Busy is a weak shield. Busy is a poor excuse.
Busy is not a badge of honor. Busy is not a synonym for productive. Busy is not a good look.
Let’s put busy in its place. Let’s decide we’re NOT going to be busy for the sake of being busy. Let’s decide that we ARE going to take control over our time.
Time is not a commodity, it’s a precious resource. However, I’ve often been guilty of squandering it, and let’s admit it – you probably have too.
That’s not to say I was sitting around watching the grass grow. Quite the opposite. My misuse of time almost always involves a blur of motion, a lot of noise, and a cloud of dust (generally metaphorical). When the dust settles, little in the scene has changed. I was WORKING HARD. I was BUSY. However, I was not productive.
Even more importantly, I was not being highly deliberate in how I spent my time. I allowed distractions, and low-value tasks to edge out high priority tasks.
The sources and drivers of this were important for me to understand in order to overcome the hurdles of being busy and getting to a point of peak productivity (which doesn’t actually mean being productive 100% the time – that’s a recipe for burnout).
For me it came down to a few things:
- Allowing other people to drive my schedule.
- Allowing distractions to derail my actions
- Failing to properly prioritize.
Other people’s problems
I’m a helper at heart. I’m a problem solver by nature. So, when I see someone who needs help with a problem, I’m extremely susceptible to being dragged off course needlessly by a problem that 10 minutes before wasn’t even on my radar. It’s a bad habit.
It was hard for me to admit that a behavior that I thought endeared me to people, and helped cement relationships while proving my friendship and support was standing between me and productivity. It was though.
I had to remind myself that in the context of work – the best use of my time, and the best way to support everyone around me, from my partners to my investors, to my staff, was to stick to my lane and get high-value work DONE.
I didn’t stop helping. I can’t – it’s part of who I am. It’s a part of me I like.
What I did do was take a closer look at the when, why and what.
I was able to cut the amount of time I spent helping by 75%, without reducing the value I was adding, by doing 2 simple things.
waiting until people actually asked me – rather than just overhearing a problem and injecting myself as a solution and;
after clearly (but briefly) defining the problem having my assistant gather research common solutions so I wasn’t starting from scratch.
Sounds simple, right? True of nearly all the impactful changes I’ve made in life.
But it was based on two simple principles that anyone can use:
Giving our OWN time the value and respect it deserves, and not spending it needlessly and;
Creating leverage by only spending my own time where the efforts aligned 100% with my knowledge and skills (in this example engineering custom solutions based on common practices) by letting someone else do the leg work.
I’m not embarrassed to say I’d never really connected the word traction (which I use all the time in talking to other entrepreneurs about starting and growing businesses) and distraction (which I suffer from constantly). Yeah, I know, it’s obvious. Now.
So, the concept that distraction is the lack of traction doesn’t exactly need handles to grasp – but I don’t think we give enough weight to HOW closely the two are actually related – and how much distraction causes diminished productivity, and lackluster outcomes – ie a loss of traction.
We live in a world run rife with distraction. We are bombarded with messaging and alerts with such alarming frequency that without some proactivity it’s all but impossible to be productive – but it makes it really easy to stay busy. In fact, it all but ensures it.
I’ll keep this part brief – because I will write an entire series of posts on JUST this topic.
I hope that you’ll just go on blind faith and trust me. I want you to take a single simple step: Kill the notifications on your phone and primary computing device.
I did this months ago – with some terribly unjustified trepidation. It turned out – I wasn’t missing anything. Except, a lot of TIME I was wasting getting caught up in tweet after Slack after BuzzFeed headline after text message – you get the point.
In order to make sure I’m not missing anything critical, I have my assistant monitor feeds that are business or life-critical – and she can fire off the bat signal if I need to don my cape and go into action.
Again, dead simple, and damn effective. Try it. You can thank me later – you’ll have time 😉
Prioritize or perish.
This one might seem the most obvious – but it’s also the most difficult to get right – and unlike valuing our own time and eliminating distractions it’s a constantly moving target.
Properly prioritizing our tasks is absolutely critical to escaping the trap of being busy at the expense of being productive. A typical hallmark of people caught in the busy loop is that they either:
- Can’t commit to their priorities or;
- Aren’t sure what the most important activities are in the first place.
Both are a massive problem and often come as a dynamic duo at the peril of productivity.
Here’s the thing. As a first step – don’t worry about whether you’ve prioritized exactly the right things – this isn’t usually where it breaks. For me – it generally fell apart because I prioritized TOO MANY THINGS.
Instead of belaboring the point of WHAT to prioritize – I urge you to focus on HOW MANY things you prioritize – and over what period these priorities are broken down into.
I, along with all of our Zirtual and Startups.com teams, focus on weekly intervals – and our priorities reflect that time frame. This keeps us from prioritizing too many things – or things so big that accomplishing them creeps across months or (gag) quarters. That’s not to say we’re not planning at those levels – we’re just breaking things down into work that can be accomplished in a week, or less. This ensures things get done – and that’s the first step in being productive. We can optimize later – for now, we need to ensure we’re placing priority on getting SOMETHING done.
If you find that you’re just busy being busy and not getting things done – knock your priority list down to one thing – and then get that one thing done with tenacious and militant focus. It will feel good – I promise.
I think it’s important to note that as I close out this post it’s 10:45 PM and I am blaring (in the confines of my noise-canceling headphones so I don’t wake my kids) Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.
However, it’s also worth noting that it’s not because I was too busy to do it earlier – I just prioritized other things. Things like getting ready for my kids’ first day back to school – and an important email marketing campaign (that could be the reason you’re here now) – and cooking a rack of lamb on the grill.
It doesn’t mean I wasn’t productive either – for me, a big part of productivity is simply spending my time where I DECIDED I would – and today, that’s exactly what I did. Also, this post wasn’t written out of obligation, but desire – and that makes all the difference in the world when looking at the difference between being busy, and doing meaningful work, regardless of when it happens.