The world is crazy busy these days, right? Not exactly, but the reality is we choose to be busy. You can make better choices about the work you do and how you do it and avoid the busyness trap.
We’ve been exploring busyness with a six-part series inspired by Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much by Tony Crabbe. We’ve talked about how we’re not actually any busier these days, how to stop switching projects and focus on your work. Now we’re going to talk about how it’s important to make the right choices about the projects you’re doing in the first place.
“In a world of too much, where we can’t do it all, our ability to make good choices is essential.” (Crabbe, 5)
Busy often happens because we’re afraid to say no. It’s easier to just go with the flow and accept our lot as being busy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The key to moving forward is to realize that we can choose for ourselves how busy we want to be.
Because in the grand scheme of things, what good is getting to inbox zero? What does cleaning out your inbox accomplish? You’ve just spent a ton of time reacting to what everyone else is telling you. You probably have more important work to do.
“We get stuck in the weeds, racing to get lots of things done rather than asking whether they are the right things to do.” (5)
The Danger of Whether or Not
Too often we approach a request as if it were a simple yes or no decision. That sounds perfectly reasonable, right? But it fails to take into account any kind of context. It can become hard to say no to something when it’s presented as a yes or no choice.
- Should I volunteer with my local nonprofit? Absolutely, why wouldn’t I?
- Should I chaperone my child’s school field trip? Sure, that sounds fun.
- Should I go on this business trip? Travel and new prospects, why not?
But approaching these decisions with that kind of framework fails to consider the opportunity cost. These are all good things to do, but choosing to do them means you’re not doing something else.
A better approach to decision making is not deciding whether or not you should do something, but instead choosing which thing you should do.
- Should I volunteer with my local nonprofit or spend time with my kids?
- Should I chaperone my child’s school field trip or finish preparing my taxes?
- Should I go on this business trip or finish this important project?
Now each good option has some context to it. You realize there are costs to everything, even good decisions: It’s always good to support nonprofits, but maybe it shouldn’t come at the cost of time with your kids. Going on that school field trip may be important, but it means your taxes won’t be ready. While that business trip sounds fun, finishing that project might be more important.
These are more realistic decisions. You’re never weighing whether or not you should do something, you’re deciding which thing you’re going to do. When you make each choice you need to realize you’re giving up something else.
Whatever you’re deciding may be a very good thing. But is it better than everything else you could be doing? No decision is made in a vacuum.
Sometimes we just need to say no.
Saying no can create some margin in our lives. We’re tempted to fill every moment. And that’s how busyness consumes us. So you need to say no.
Of course saying no doesn’t always go down easily. Sometimes we need help to say no without actually saying no.
- Negotiate – Instead of just accepting what someone asks, negotiate with some options: I can’t do X, but instead I can Y or Z (where Y or Z are abbreviated, smaller versions of X).
- Opportunity cost – Or remind them of the opportunity cost: Well, I could do X, but then that means I can’t do Y. Do you still want me to do X?
- Fast, Cheap, Good – One way to say no is to remind people of the basic principles of cost. You only get to pick two: fast, cheap or good. You can’t have all three. (You can have it fast and good, but then it won’t be cheap. You can have it cheap and good, but it won’t be fast.)
Embrace Your Niche
We often talk about the need for freelancers to find their niche. When you narrow your focus and exclusively work on one thing, it’s easier to say no to all the many good things that don’t fit your niche.
You can say, “I’d love to build your brochure website, except I only focus on ecommerce sites. Sorry. Let me recommend someone for you.”
This is a huge way to turn away unwanted projects and actually focus on what you do best. It reinforces what you do with people and you can still be helpful by giving a referral. That’s a win-win-win.
Move Beyond Busy
Getting past busy often has more to do with the big picture decisions we make rather than what project management system we have in place or when we check our email.
Next, we’ll take a look at some positive reinforcement that can help you banish busyness.