by Bill Sanders, Principal and Sr. Consultant with Roebling Strauss
"I've just been so buried."
Every time I hear it, what I really want to asks is "When did you die?!"
It's a status symbol. Being so busy that you are "buried," that is. It's almost up there with how much someone travels. It says, "Hey, I'm essential. Look at how busy I am!"
Self-management actually starts with managing yourself and the truth is that busyness is the anathema to productivity and effectiveness. Here are three reasons that I most often encounter for being too busy and what to do about each.
You Lack Focus
If you start your day first thing with email it's likely that by the time you get around to thinking about your priorities for the day that you will have already lost more than an hour. And that's being generous. All your alarms are going off now and the excuses are mustering:
"I have to be available to my team."
"I have east coast clients!"
"How will I know what's going on?"
In the words of Bob Newhart, "Stop it!" Starting your day with email, 8 a.m. meetings and OPE's (Other People's Emergencies), are guaranteed ways to avoid doing the things you know you should be doing. It's choosing activity over effectiveness.
The solution? First, set two or three priorities per day. Preferably the night before. These can be independent tasks that can be completed in one sitting like writing an article, making three sales calls, or catching up for a half hour on industry news. They can also be a portion of a larger project like writing two pages for your book or an hour of market research. It should be something concrete that is moving you toward creating the professional life you want. Second, block off time in your calendar for that priority. And third, do it. Treat it like a meeting and allow nothing short of a fire to interrupt until it is complete.
For bonus points add two or three more items that support your goals outside of work; exercise, time with your family, a call to an old friend. All the other tasks will still fit in the in-between times.
You Are Taking on Too Much
There is a saying in the not-for-profit world that "At zero cost, there is unlimited demand." The same goes for your time, attention and effort. There is always something else that "needs" to be done. There is always something else clamoring for your attention. There is always a person, an organization, or a worthy cause that can use your help. And most of us are optimists. We think it will take less time than it does.
The solution? Learn to say yes. Yes, you read that right. Learn to say yes to a bigger purpose -- your goals, your agenda. That mean's saying no to other's agendas. If it's a great cause and you are already committed in other areas, just say "no, thank you." If it's work related, you can steal the line from Steven Covey's "7 Habits" and say "I'd be happy to do that for you. Which one of these other projects would you like me to drop or delay?" Your life is yours and that means your time is yours. If you don't respect it and have boundaries, others certainly won't.
You Aren't Delegating Enough
Nothing erodes success like perfection. And in my experience, the desire for perfection is one of the top culprits when people resist delegation. We want to make sure it is done "right." (Usually code for "done my way" rather than done to my standards.) The excuse I most often hear is "It would take longer to explain what needs to be done than to just do it myself."
The solution? Reframe the purpose of your effort. Are you just "writing a report?" Or, can you reframe it to "I'm growing my team's skills in report writing?" Are you "designing a strategy?" Or, are you "mentoring a strategic thinker?" One of the most impacting examples of this was when I was a teen. Stopping by a mentor's house for a visit, I found Gary and his six-year-old son apparently attempting to repair a set of wooden steps. I watched Ricky attempt to drive in a nail with an adult sized hammer about a dozen times before he finally got it right. Gary patiently pulled every bent nail and let him try again. Most of the time Rickey was frustrated and mad almost to the point of tears -- until he got it right. Then you could just see the pride emanating. At dinner, I remarked on Gary's patience. He laughed and said "Ah, you thought I was trying to fix the step, didn't you? I was just raising my boy."
Eventually, we are all going to die. Leaving a legacy beyond a first place prize for being the busiest person in the company will require the discipline to prioritize, learning to say "yes!" to the important things, and being willing to reframe our activities in the interests of others.
Bill Sanders is Principal and Sr. Consultant with Roebling Strauss, an operational strategy consultancy that specializes in delivering dramatic improvements in organizational effectiveness: co-founder and Advisory Board Member of Alynd, software that facilitates and supports team alignment through commitments: and Co-Lead Link of the Finance Circle for Great Work Cultures, a community dedicated to creating a new norm for work cultures that optimize worker effectiveness and human happiness. Connect with Bill on twitter.