“The nature of creativity is to make space for things to happen… We can drive it out with our busyness and plans.” – Iain McGilchrist
When you get a chance, look around you. Notice what’s going on and be astonished at how busy people are. It feels good to do stuff. It feels like we’re accomplishing something. But are we being productive? Or are we just keeping busy?
I was eavesdropping on a conversation today. Well, truthfully it was too loud to ignore. The guy was complaining on the phone about all the things on his list. What had to be done before he could even consider helping his friend or colleague on the line.
Without even looking at his notes he spewed out about 20-30 different items that needed to get done. Wow, no wonder the guy was freaking out. But from what I could tell there were about 6 key things he kept coming back to during the conversation. They probably could’ve solved all of the 30 something issues had he just focused his attention on those 6 things.
This a wonderfully unnecessary tendency we have. I know, i’ve been through it myself during my “be more productive”-phase. What helped me was to start my to-do’s with, as stale as it sounds, “with the end in mind”.
What happened was that I got stressed out when I saw my list of about 15-20 things I wanted to get done that day. It lead me to think of it as a mountain of work and having to limit the time I spent on each task.
Thank Covey I found his quadrants! This helped a LOT but the problem was still too many items. What to do? Give up?
Nope! The key is to keep asking questions even when you get an answer. So I asked myself and others and got some answers that lead me to realize that i’d never zoomed out enough. What was it I wanted to achieve? What was the big idea?
It wasn’t about managing time or tasks anymore, it was about what things would actually lead me to where I want to go. What’s the least amount of steps I can take to get me there?
You think lists of 30 items freak people out? Watch them when you say you’re only going to do 5 or 6 of them. “What?! Are you INSANE? You can’t do that!”. Atleast this was the reaction I got. “What about this thing and that thing?”. Nope. Not gonna do it.
There’s this wonderful idea called the 80/20 principle. What it basically means is that 20% of what you do leads to 80% of the results. Likewise 80% of what you do leads to 20% of your results. So it’s basically 80% busyness and 20% business.
This has opened up a lot more time for me to sit down and analyze my opportunities. Think of having 20 tasks during your 8 hour day. You can devote 24 minutes to each task. Do you think that’ll give you quality results? Imagine instead stepping back and looking at that list and spending some time thinking about which 4-5 tasks could bring you the outcome you want. Even if you spend 1 hour widdling it down (which you obviously won’t, or atleast please don’t) you suddenly get more than 1 hour for each task instead. Now that’s time well spent!
You’re having lunch with two successful people.
Person number one needs to be surgically separated from their phone. They warned you ahead of time that they’ve only got 45 minutes for lunch and might have to take a few calls.
Person number two turns off their phone and enjoys the meal.
Which person would you think is the “most successful”? Most of us would deem person number one as more successful. They must be! They’re always so busy! They might be. But at what cost?
I’ve seen a tendency in people who are caught up in the busyness of things. It seems like they’re more afraid of failing than they are driven by the will to succeed. If they just keep busy they won’t lose. As long as the shark swims it doesn’t die (I know it’s not entirely true that they drown if they stop swimming, but i’m trying to prove a point damn you!).
So take some time and take a step back. Look at your list and pick out the key things you can do to get yourself closer to your goal. You can work hard or you can work smart. There’s a time for both.
Do this and you’ll soon be going out of busyness!