We’ve been exploring the consequences of being too busy. Sound familiar? Read on.
This six-part series is inspired by Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much by Tony Crabbe. We started by exploring why we feel so busy (when we aren’t any busier) and then explored how to stop task switching. Now we’re going to look at how to change our approach to work to escape the busy trap.
The solution to the problem of busyness isn’t being busier. You can’t just work harder, stronger, faster to try to get ahead of the busy.
You can’t out-busy busy.
“Time management will not help you get in control; because there is too much to do, it will only make you busier. … Time management will not make you more effective, it reduces our ability to prioritize; it makes us more efficient, but less effective.” (Crabbe, 20)
You Need to Work Differently
Instead you have to change your approach to work entirely:
- Give up your illusion of control. You simply can’t do it all and respond to everything and everyone.
- Make the hard choices: “No surfer can catch every wave, so we have to get really good at choosing which wave to catch.” (9)
- Develop mastery. That happens “when we are able to manage and focus our attention, rather than allowing it to be scattered and split.” (9)
Stop accepting busyness as the way things are. Stop trying to control busy with to-do lists and productivity tips and apps. Stop playing the game.
Instead choose the right priorities. Ignore the distractions. Get really good at what you do best.
How to Work Differently
If you start your day by answering email and get sucked into answering questions, you’re likely to waste hours in your inbox. If you give priority to other people’s meetings and don’t protect solid blocks of time to work on your projects, you’ll never accomplish your priorities. If you say yes to every good project, you won’t have time for the truly great projects.
Here are some tips and ideas to help you approach your work in a new way and avoid the trap of busy:
- Do the big stuff first – When you’re loading a moving truck, you put the big pieces in first. Then you fill in the extra space with the smaller boxes. Same with your work. Don’t waste your day with minor projects and busy work. Tackle your big important projects first. Then do the smaller projects and email with whatever time is left.
- Put it on your calendar – You put other people’s meetings on your calendar and work around them. Give the same level of priority to your own work. Put that big project on your calendar and commit to working on it then. Carve out that time and protect it. Say no to meetings—you’ve got work to do.
- Don’t switch – We talked about the dangers of switching between tasks. That applies to distractions like email and social media, but it also applies to big projects. Instead of allotting an hour every day for that big project, spend an entire day on it. You’ll make more progress by focusing and lose less time to switching.
- Choose the right projects – This is a big one. You can’t do everything, so you need to carefully choose what you will do. We’ll talk more about how to do this in a separate post.
- Set limits – Our work often fills to expand the time we give it. So don’t let those minor tasks have unlimited time. Set a timer and give yourself 20 minutes to answer email. Then be done and move on to your real work.
- Focus your energy – Pay attention to your work rhythms. When do you work the best? When are you tired and easily distracted? Then focus on your important work when you’re at your best, and save your email and all those minor tasks for when you’re tired. Don’t squander your energy on nothing tasks.
- Play to your strengths – When you’re trying to choose what to do next, focus on doing what you’re really good at. That’s where you’ll see the greatest return on your effort. Don’t waste hours on stuff you’re not very good at.
- Just get started – Sometimes all it takes is momentum. These big important projects are intimidating, so we don’t want to start. But often if we can get past that fear, we discover that these projects aren’t as intimidating as we thought they were.
- Eat the frog – First thing in the morning, before checking your email, tackle the biggest, scariest project you have. Not only does starting this before anything else give you more focus, but you’ll get the worst behind you. You’ll be energized by making progress on something so awful, and nothing else your day can throw at you will be as bad.
Overcoming busyness is all about working smarter, not harder.
Approach your work differently, and you’ll see less frantic busyness and more focused effectiveness. Next, we’ll explore how making the right choices about your work will help keep you focused.