If I had £5 for every time I’ve said, “I’m so busy.” I would be so rich that I’d never need to be busy ever again!
Of course if that was a reality, no doubt I would find many other things to fill my time with, as our (my) obsession with busyness goes far beyond the need to meet the ever-rising expenses of modern living.
The Art of Doing Nothing
A growing urge to fill our time with more and more activities seems to have been slowly bubbling away for some time now and since the explosion of social media and the availability of personal digital and communication devices we have all but lost the art of doing nothing.
I was standing in a queue to buy some clothes yesterday and a young girl in her early twenties was stood behind me. We were waiting in line for about 15 minutes and the whole time she was chatting on her phone, hands free. From what I could hear, nothing of great significance was being discussed, no vital information was being shared, there wasn’t even any laughter or general chit chat.
They were simply sharing their boredom, their inability to be on their own with their own thoughts; their need to fill every moment, every silence, every chance for space.
Smarter Not Harder
How can we hope to live a life full of purpose and reach our goals without working hard 100% of the time? When there are countless people waiting behind you to snap up the opportunities you have been presented with, how can you thrive and yet step off the chaotic carousel?
The answer lies in working smarter, not harder.
When faced with a week full of personal and professional tasks, ask yourself these questions to assess whether you’re really making the most of every moment:
Do I want to do this?
Do I need to do this?
Am I the best person to do this?
Does this make me happy?
For example, how many times have you taken on a project because someone you work with has asked you to do it and you don’t want to say no, even if you think it’s not the best use of your time? Then you spend longer than needed struggling your way through a task that isn’t suited to your unique skills and your other work suffers.
If instead you had recommended another person to take on that project who you know would do a great job of it, you would have created more time to focus on your own work, given your employer an even better solution to their problem and one of your colleagues a good opportunity. Everyone wins.
Leave It At The Office
I recognise this behaviour in myself just as often in my personal life as well. On more than one occasion I’ve said, “I’m too busy to join you,” when what I really mean is, “I would rather do something else.” The really stupid thing is that my guilt generally forces me to actually make myself busy rather than do whatever I was invited to.
As work tends to generate more work, the cycle will continue and then when I am invited to something I really do want to do, karma will bite me in the butt and I will genuinely be too busy to take part. Even once we have made the decision to work smarter rather than harder, the reality is that life isn’t quite as simple as all that and we often end up reacting, rather than responding.
Having followed the steps above to qualify which activities you really want and need to do that suit your skillset, how do you start taking that into the workplace without rocking the boat too much? People find comfort in routine and routine busyness is a full-blown workplace epidemic.
Try telling your boss that if you took a 3-day weekend and a 2-hour lunch break every day you would be more productive, and see how fast they promote the guy at the desk next to you who stays 3 hours longer than you every night.
But essentially, results speak for themselves. Start by managing yourself better before you ask someone else to manage you better.
All too often, managers think their job is to manage. It’s possible to spend an entire day ‘managing’ people, things, time… and never actually achieve anything. What if every manager measured results instead of activity?
A common error made by those in a position of leadership is to focus on short-term tactics, rather than long-term strategy. This is a bit like a dog chasing its tail: whilst Fido is busy co-ordinating his legs at running in circles and his jaws in snapping, the tail becomes ever more elusive. If Fido were to sit down and think about how to reach his tail instead of chasing in circles, he would have a much better chance of catching it!
Here are some tips on how you can have a productive team:
- Provide your team with stimulating challenges, learning opportunities and rewards
- Invest in your team personally and professionally
- Keep your employees connected to the business through information and participation
- Make sure everyone feels heard, communication is key
Progressive Not Aggressive
Next time you find yourself feeling overloaded, close your eyes and take 10 full, slow inhales and exhales. Once you have opened your eyes again, ask yourself, “Do I want to do this? Do I need to do this? Am I the best person to do this? Does this make me happy?”
The more we desire to be less busy, the busier we seem to feel.
Let’s take a step back in time before it was possible to eat your lunch, send a text, read the news and take the train simultaneously to really focus on each task fully.
Give 100% to every moment.