The Myth of Busy—and 6 Ways to Break Free of it
by Samantha Bennett
Have you noticed that there’s a worldwide game of “Busy Poker” going on?
It sounds like this:
Person One: “I’m SO busy. I had to get up at 6 a.m. to work on my presentation and then corral the kids, race to my client meeting, get across town for a luncheon and now I won’t get home until after 6 p.m.”
Person Two: “Oh, me, too. I’m sooooooo busy. I actually had to get up at 5 a.m. to finish my proposal and then I had all these meetings and then of course there’s the big project I’m in charge of and I can’t possibly leave work until at least 7 p.m.”
Person Three: “You two are so lucky. I’m SO much busier than both of you...”
It’s time to drop the glorification of busy.
Busy is not a virtue.
You don’t get bonus points for being stressed out, exhausted and depleted. Especially as an entrepreneur, you don’t get any gold stars for putting more busyness in your business.
Here are six practical steps to drop the myth of busy and reclaim your time, your sanity and your peace of mind.
1. Be busy like a trapeze artist is busy
Being busy doesn’t mean that you have to be stressed out. Think of yourself as a trapeze artist – or a neurosurgeon – going from moment to moment and task to task with grace, clarity and focused energy. No unnecessary faffing around. No drama. Just clear, inspired action.
You can help yourself by focusing on one thing at a time. Hopping between priorities is distracting and time-consuming, so give yourself the gift of picking Just One Thing, and say no to every other sparkly thing that tries to tempt you away.
NOTE: This may mean finding a place to work that does not have internet access, or getting one of those apps that blocks your access to social media for a given time period. (One I know of for Mac is called SelfControl, but there’s lots of them out there that have different timers and functions, so find the one that’s right for you.)
2. Drop the myth of overwhelm
Sometimes thinking about your list of things makes you feel exhausted and burnt out before you even begin. But is your list really 20 items long? Or is it really only five items long, but you keep thinking about those same five things over and over again, so it feels like more?
Having what David Allen refers to as “open loops” in your mind is intensely distracting and a big energy drain, so do those circulating thoughts a favor and take a moment write down everything that’s on your mental list.
If, looking at your list, it still feels overwhelming, you probably haven’t been as precise as you need to be. Make sure that each item on your list is actually an action step. Often people just the name of the project rather than the actions and time involved.
In other words, you may have written down, “Finish Presentation.” But what that really means is that you need to
- Confirm the date of the meeting with your client (five-minute phone call)
- Find compelling new images for your PowerPoint (20 minutes of research)
- Final polish on the outline (25 minutes to review and rehearse)
- Give presentation to colleague to proofread and comment (15 minutes to review his/her notes and correct any errors)
Once you write each action step down along with the time you expect it will take, you can see that what was looming in your mind as an all-day project is actually just an hour of real work time.
Writing down the individual steps in a project allows you to be more realistic about the tasks at hand rather than feeling overwhelmed by the whole magilla.
3. Quit buying groceries at the 7-Eleven
When you fail to plan ahead, you end up scrambling around at the last minute, and often the results are less than satisfactory.
So rather than remembering that you’ve got to make dinner as you are on your way home, forcing you to grab whatever groceries you can find, take the time to put those responsibilities into your calendar right along with your other commitments. Too often your personal stuff ends up being crammed into the corners of your day, and you then you are forced to rush, which just adds to your feelings of being “too busy.”
Schedule in your grocery shopping, household chores and errands so that you are making time for all of your activities for the day, not just the ones that involve other people. Also, please make sure you account for getting-stuck-in-traffic time, finding-a-parking-place time and waiting-for-the-elevator time. Neglecting to account for the actual time it takes to get from one place to another is a leading cause of chronic lateness and contributes heavily to the feeling of being “too busy.”
By the same token, do yourself a favor and remember to build in 10 or 15 minutes of buffer time before and after phone calls and meetings so you can take a moment to breathe, to get a drink of water, collect your thoughts and move calmly into the next scheduled activity.
4. If you’ve done it more than three times, you need a system
Chances are that whatever it is you are so busy doing, you’ve probably done it before. So quit building the house from scratch each time.
See if there isn’t a way to create a checklist, a template or a system for some of the things you do repeatedly. For example, my friend Leonore travels a lot for her business, and she swears that her “packing checklist” saves her hours of time and reduces her stress each time she has to pull out her suitcase. She doesn’t have to push herself to remember everything she’s going to need because she already has it all written down, plus she doesn’t have to spend time racing around once she arrives because she’s forgotten one thing or another.
My sister Andrea has a very demanding full-time job, so she simplifies her home life by instituting Wednesdays as “mac-and-cheese” night and Fridays as “pizza-and-movie” night. Her young kids love the routine, and her planning, shopping and cooking time are all made that much simpler.
Once you systematize, you automatically eliminate a lot of the “putting out fires” activities that are eating away at your time. Imagine that for every hour you spend strategizing and creating good systems, you’ll gain ten hours down the road.
5. Does This REALLY have to be done? And does it have to be done by you?
I loved it when, at ICON15, Brad Martineau said that he examines every idea with the question, “What would happen if this doesn’t happen?” In other words – not every idea has to be turned into an action item.
And certainly not every idea has to be executed by you.
“But I’m no good at delegating,” you cry.
Luckily, you are a smart and adaptable person, and you can learn by doing. I find that the best place to start is to delegate is simple, repetitive tasks. I love handing off projects like uploading videos. Formatting blog posts. Following up on failed credit card invoices. Stuff like that. Virtual Assistants are great for this.
“But they’re not going to do as good of a job as I will,” you cry.
Honey, please don’t take this the wrong way, but get over yourself. You probably aren’t doing as fantastic a job as you think you are— especially if you’re all overtired and stressed out. And, let’s be frank, how perfect does it really have to be? Chances are, you are spending too much of your precious time and energy on things that no one else cares much about.
“It takes longer to teach someone else to do it than it does for me to just do it myself.”
The first time, yes. And the second time. And possibly the third and fourth time, because it truly does take a while for someone to not just learn the ins and outs of a given task, but also to get acquainted with your larger “why” and “how”—your values and your style. But after the fourth time, they are going to be able to do it just fine and you won’t have to do it ever again.
Do the math—which is better: you do it with them four more times and then never again? Or you do it yourself forever? See what I mean?
6. Nobody likes a furious victim
Now let’s talk quietly for a second, because this is sort of personal.
I often hear my clients stomping around, complaining about everything and moaning about how much they have to do all the time.
They are acting like someone is doing this TO them.
The truth is that being an entrepreneur is the opportunity to solve an endless series of problems, much like parenting.
The opportunity to engage with those problems is a privilege.
No one likes it when the website goes down or the client cancels or a team member drops the ball, any more than a parent likes it when a diaper needs changing or a child cries in the night or they are forced to answer thirty-seven questions about why the sky is blue.
But that’s the gig.
Your total job description is this: solve problems.
So practice solving your problems with grace and speed, like a trapeze artist. And practice being grateful for the opportunity you’ve been given to serve your clients and create a better world.
No one will admire you more because you have sacrificed joy for busyness. But they will admire (and hire) you more you when you are relaxed and focused enough to consistently find the joy in your business.
Is your small business team stuck in the myth of busy? Want to break free? Sign up for our productivity course and let Sam help you rediscover the joy in your business.
Samantha Bennett is a Creativity/Productivity Specialist, and the creator of both TheOrganizedArtistCompany.com and TheOrganizedEntrepreneurCompany.com. She is also proud to be an Infusionsoft Certified Partner. She is the author of the bestselling, Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day (New World Library). She offers her nearly-legendary "Get It Done Workshops" online for overwhelmed procrastinators, frustrated overachievers and recovering perfectionists everywhere.
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