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Why are you so busy?

You are probably too busy to read this, so I'll keep it short. I have set an intention for 2018 to create more space in my life. For me, my brain space was so filled with work, I couldn't think about anything else. And, I couldn't always do a high quality job with the task at hand. My motto became "do just enough to get it off my plate". 'Busy' is the new Mercedes-Benz, a status symbol to show how important we are, and how many people are relying on us.

But why are we so busy? And does all this busyness really make us better? more productive? healthier? happier?

Once up a time, I had a peer, let's call her Jody. Jody who worked until 3AM every night. I was clocking out at around 5 everyday. Jody seemed frantic and nervous all the time. I was calm and cool as a cucumber. Jody actually pulled me aside one day and said "Can I give you some feedback? You're not on top of things and it shows". But I had a happy customer, a great team, and it showed in my results. Her results? Not so good.

Well the Boss thought maybe the problem was Jody's customer, so we swapped jobs. Guess what? Same deal. The customer became happier and my team got great results. For my peer, it didn't work out so well. Whatever Jody was so busy doing, wasn't getting her results and wasn't making her, or her team, happy. What was I doing differently?

  • What are you so busy doing? Oh I know you are busy answering emails and writing reports and powerpoints that your boss asked for. I encourage you to take a close look at how you are allocating your time. Are administrative tasks taking up your time? Useless meetings? Are you focused on Stephen Covey's "urgent but not important" work, leaving no time for the "important" work? You have 2 basic options here: 1. Find ways to get these things done faster. For example, can you automate or drastically strip down the detail in your reports? Delegation is not the answer here, because then you are just passing the "busy" onto someone else. You need to actually reduce the work. 2. Just stop doing some of it. I hereby give you permission not to do everything everyone asks. I know you were taught that you had to take all the actions and follow up, but you don't. And really, everyone else is so busy, will they even notice?

  • How much of your busy-ness is by choice? Upon seeing my calendar, a friend once said to me "They have you booked up in meetings, huh?" I said "Well no, I have myself booked up in meetings." Next time you hear yourself say "I have to..." or "I have no choice" that's your signal to seek another option. Who are you going to allow control of decisions in your life? you? or someone else? Think creatively, shake things up a bit. Take responsibility for your time. Prioritize your work, and then just say no to things that aren't a priority. It sounds simple, but it takes a boatload of courage.

  • Are you making other people busy? Wait a second....are you the culprit?! Are you the one making work for other people? And maybe it's boomeranging back to you? Consider what happens when you send an email on the weekend. Perhaps you were sending it, not expecting it to be read until Monday, but instead someone responds asking for clarification. And how many people are cc'd? Are they all reading this now too? Every time you respond you are creating work.

  • What is it really getting you? How much money has your company made from the powerpoint deck you put together last week? Did all this busyness make you happier? Is there even an end in sight? And what did it cost you? Have you neglected to communicate effectively? Have you stopped listening deeply to your customers? Find someone in your company who you respect, but doesn't work crazy busy. They exist, I promise! Use them as a model.

  • What would happen if you scheduled some rest time? When is the last time you went out for lunch? Go out for lunch! Stop eating at your desk! Enjoy your day, take a break. Get to know a co-worker a little better. Good ideas happen in the spaces between thoughts. Build in a little space.

“In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.”

— Robert Heinlein

What have you tried to overcome the trap of busyness? How did it turn out?

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