“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”
— Socrates, ancient Athenian
“What the hell are you doing?”
My wife’s question startled me. Now to be fair, it was 3 a.m. and I was sitting in front of my computer in my underwear. (Sorry for the unpleasant visual.) I had woken up in the middle of night convinced that I hadn’t responded to an important email from my employer. As it turned out I had, but seeing that I was up, I decided to work on a small writing assignment.
My wife was not impressed. And when I tried to explain the logic behind sitting in front of a computer in your underwear at three in the morning, she threw up her hands, turned and went back to bed.
OK. I admit it. I’m a recovering addict. For years, I was addicted to busyness. I can’t say that I’m totally free of the affliction, but it has become somewhat easier to mitigate since I began my journey of building self-esteem. You see, for years I kept busy so that I wouldn’t have to look at the mess I’d made of my life. I was living in a place of fear and denial. As odd as it might sound, for me, busyness had become a form of procrastination. I had an excuse. There was simply no time for rest, reflection or reassessment. I was busy being busy.
In a New York Times article entitled The Busy Trap, columnist Tim Kreider says many “busy” people have a need to “perceive themselves as busy as a means of justifying their existence.” In Kreider’s view, our busyness defines who we are — it helps establish our personal value. This can be a dangerous and debilitating belief. And most of us, according to Kreider, are completely out of work/life balance and suffering because of it. Kreider’s recommendation? Stop valuing busyness as a positive. Until we see busyness for the thief that it is, we’ll never break the cycle.
We’re all given the same allotment of time each day, so why is it that some people seem to get so much more out of their 24 hours than others do? As Kreider suggests, this imbalance often plays itself out with work. For some, the busyness of work can become all-consuming. Now don’t get me wrong. Some of us are building businesses and fortunate enough to derive fulfillment or even a sense of purpose from what we’re doing, but most folks are just exchanging hours for dollars and there is a limited number of hours available to exchange.
We’ve all heard it said (when it comes to time) that quality is more valuable than quantity. So how do we create quality?
How do we generate the most value for each hour and earn the highest return?
Recently, I celebrated a milestone: 10 years of writing, coaching and teaching about self-esteem. To me, it was quality time. I pursued my passion and followed my dream, and I know I’m a better person for it. I can tell you from personal experience that the more confident and empowered we feel, the more likely we are to make good use of our time.
There’s a wonderful quote by Peter Drucker, the Austrian-born American writer, management consultant and former professor at New York University on the topic of busyness that reads, “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”
There’s certainly a difference between the two. You can do a lot of things efficiently yet still not be very effective. Here’s a quick and simple litmus test. If you’re following through on all of your tasks but you’re not getting the results you desire, you’re likely not very effective.
That said, here are a few things I’ve learned about controlling the busyness.
Prioritize. Ask yourself, if you could complete only one task today, which task would have the most impact on your personal growth or, if at work, on the profitability of your organization. When the answer comes (and it will) you can add those less urgent but still important tasks to your daily list and return to them when the high-priority tasks have been completed.
Plan. Each morning, sit down and plan out your day.
Too many times I’ve found myself still sitting at my desk at 6 p.m. trying to figure out just what (if anything) I’d accomplished. Here’s the truth: the more intentional you are, the more you’ll accomplish.
The hours in your day are much too valuable to be squandered or subjected to unpredictability.
Produce. We are each most productive at a certain time of the day. Some of us do our best work in the morning. Some in the afternoon. As a night owl, I tend to do my best work in the evenings. It’s when I do most of my writing. My second-most productive time is the morning, so that’s when I try to get most of my job-related work accomplished and when I wear pants.
I’m left to ponder the truth in a quotation by Indian poet, Vipin Panwar that reads, “There’s no such thing as being too busy. If you really want something, you’ll make time for it.”
If busyness has kept you from doing what should be important, ask yourself why. And while you’re at it, think of those times when you accomplished the most. Likely, it wasn’t simply a matter of having enough time. No, it was likely because you also had the focus, fuel and the tools you needed to accomplish what you set out to accomplish. We’ve all started our day with the best of intentions and ended it by wondering where all the time has gone. Here’s a little insight: the same thing can happen with your life if you’re not careful. Use your time wisely.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.