Constantly being busy is doing us more harm than good. Here’s an approach that helps you prioritise.
In our professional and private lives, our days seemed to be filled with the question, “How are you?” Colleagues, family, friends — we’re all asking each other this auto-pilot inquiry.
And many of us respond with a robotic, “Oh, I’m good … it’s been busy,” followed by either an exasperated sigh or, “But it’s OK, you know? Better than the alternative, right?”
This phenomenon has permeated our culture and our vernacular for decades. We’re all busy, all the time.
After the “lean in” movement and the “sleep revolution” arose the “hustler mentality”: Stay alert. Keep moving. Get busy. Go after it. Our smartphones are packed with self-help podcasts, audio-books, daily affirmations and calendar reminders luring us in with the promise to solve our need to accomplish more and be more. I’m as guilty of this as any other person.
While this reactionary rhythm has embedded itself into our DNA, I would argue it’s doing more damage than good — and we don’t even realise it. When we say, “I’m busy,” we’re actually telling those around us that we; 1) aren’t great at managing our time, 2) we’re not engaging in our day, or worse, 3) we aren’t giving the person who is inquiring our undivided attention. This is especially apparent when interacting with clients, customers and team members.
If there’s one thing we should be getting busy with, it’s balance.
Balance leads to control, control leads to focus, and focus gives us the capacity to prioritise. There’s a difference between being a slave to busy and consciously putting the things that are most important to you in the forefront.
We aren’t able to grow, improve or change without this structure and mindset. Centring yourself each and every day is the habit you must form in order to transform how you show up, how you engage with others and how you move beyond “busy.”
As we regroup from our winter hibernation and find ourselves exploring how we leverage our time and energy, I suggest going through a simple daily exercise, ‘The Six Most and the Vital One’.
- At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish the next day. Avoid the trap of wanting to write down more.
- There’s always a task — large or small, personal or professional — that you feel takes priority over everything else. Add this item outside your list of six. Prioritise the six to-do’s in order of importance, with your Vital One being the most important.
- When you arrive at the office the next day, concentrate on the first task. Work on the first task until it’s finished before moving on to the second task.
- Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
It’s simple and one of the most impactful things anyone can do to improve their personal effectiveness, yet it’s surprisingly hard to execute.
Establishing this daily habit will eliminate the B word from your vocabulary.
There are a couple of things that make this approach especially effective. First, it’s limited. It’s a fallacy to think you can get it all done, so focus on the things that you must get done.
Second, it’s methodical and focused — a slap in the face to the mental chaos of multitasking, which I like.
Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth of Harvard University performed a study years ago that found 47% of our waking hours are spent on something other than what we’re actually doing, meaning our thoughts wander into the past or the future. It’s no wonder we all feel so rushed when the time actually comes to get it all done.
My point is this: Without some guardrails for vetting where you spend your time and energy, your life will lose purpose, flow and productivity. Take back the “busy” in your life and prioritise. You’ll find a happier, more intentional person awaits.