I read an article the other day that described ‘busy’ as the new ‘fine’. When people say, ‘how are you?’ it’s become the norm to say ‘busy’ and for that to be okay. Scary isn’t it? That we think being busy is a good thing. We attach importance and self-worth to being busy or we just accept it as life.
Why is it not good to be busy?
If we are busy, are we achieving our goals? Are we getting our work done? Not necessarily. Are we getting stressed? Overwhelmed? Feeling like there is no time to get everything done? Most likely.
Because of the pressures of work and business, or life in general, parents are spending less time with their children, we are finding it harder to take time off from our business and work and stress is becoming a rising problem in the workplace. We are finding it hard to fit everything in because there is so much to do. Does it really have to be like this?
Busy is not the same as productive
There is no question that life is placing more and more demands on us, but being ‘busy’ doesn’t necessarily mean we are effectively clearing tasks and progressing with our goals. Busy does not equal productive. To give you an example, I’ve been writing this for about an hour now because I’m ‘busy’ with other tasks too. I’ve been answering emails, taking calls, checking social media under the guise of marketing and switching between this and any messages that come in asking me to do things. In other words, I’ve been extremely unproductive. I’ve only written a couple of paragraphs and all the other things could have been done afterwards, grouped together strategically and done properly and quickly or not at all. Today I am busy, but I am not productive.
Busy by definition
Busy is defined as ‘to be engaged in action’.
In contrast, the definition of being productive is ‘Productivity is computed by dividing average output per period by the total costs incurred or resources (capital, energy, material, personnel) consumed in that period. Productivity is a critical determinant of cost efficiency.’
In essence, to be productive is to get the important things done, being busy is doing something for a period of time.
How do we stop being busy?
There are many ways that we can tone down the busy and either be more productive or simply make the decision to cut things out that aren’t important. In this article, we will run down some ideas.
Use ‘to-do today’ lists
There’s lots of advice about to-do lists and they can actually become a bit demotivating when you keep adding things and they just keep getting longer and longer. It can feel like we have barely made a dent and by the end of the day, with so much left on the list, it doesn’t feel like we have achieved anything.
These types of lists are not very effective. What works better is a ‘To-do today’ list. This is a shorter list, or a segment of your longer to-do list (which let’s face it, can be more like a wish list), or things that absolutely must be done today. Each item must be big enough to make an impact and small enough to be achievable in a day.
Multi-tasking is considered a skill in our society. We put it on our CV as a strength, however, sometimes it’s not as helpful as we think. As I mentioned above, sometimes we can flit between tasks, giving none our full focus, doing everything to a lower standard and taking longer to do it than if we gave our full attention to a single task. There have been studies done on this that show that when we divert our attention to another task, say to read an unrelated email, it takes 20 minutes to get our attention fully back to what we were doing.
Stop answering emails
This goes hand in hand with the point above. Often when an email pings in, we stop what we are doing and read it. In doing this we invariably mark it for attention later, often having to re-read it. Even when that isn’t the case, when we respond to emails immediately, we invite the other person to respond and the conversation can go back and forth, taking up our time.
A recent study showed that we spend an average of 5 hours using a digital device, switching between tasks over 300 times and using 56 apps/websites in a single day. Whether that’s you or not, I’m sure you can relate.
There is much buzz amongst professionals who are advocating checking emails just once a day and being assertive enough in making decisions that there is no wasted back and forth time. Closed questions, suggestion with authority and decisive action stop time wasters in their tracks. On occasions, it is also quicker to pick up the phone than email back and forth.
Turn off social media
How often do you say you’re busy but still check social media? It feels like seconds at a time and maybe sometimes it is, but it’s so easy to get caught up in scrolling feeds that before we know it, we are even busier because we’ve wasted so much time.
Do yourself a favour and turn off your notifications, or put your phone on do not disturb mode. A recent study showed that we spend on average 7% of our day on social media. Now we wonder why we end up being so busy!
How much of the time you spend being busy is on pointless tasks? It happens more in employment than when you run a business, but it’s easy to carry these habits over into our own businesses. Do you spend time in meetings that could have been covered with a phone call? Track things in spreadsheets unnecessarily? These are the characteristics of ‘busy’ people, not productive people.
Sometimes it’s just a feeling
Sometimes the stress of knowing all the things we have to do can send us over the edge. It can be the case that the feeling of being busy is worse than actually getting on with the tasks. Thinking and worrying about being busy can be overwhelming and stop us doing the tasks that will unbusy us.
The mindful among us will know that a busy life equals a busy mind and vice versa. If we can quiet our mind and manage the influx of stressful thoughts and noise, we can feel calmer and able to tackle that day with focus and calm.
This can be done through meditation, exercise, affirmations, yoga or whatever makes you feel calm and capable.
Factor in not being busy
It’s easy to fall into the busy trap but what if we just stop being busy? Factor in some time to just take time out. Being busy, working hard (or not, but working all the same) isn’t good for us and we need to devote some time to wind down. Schedule some time to do something you love and it can not only be a welcome break but spur you on to be more productive in the time you have, rather than busy for the sake of it.
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