“Busy” is the modern equivalent of “fine.”
Ask people how they’re doing and they’re highly likely to tell you they’re “keeping busy” or “we had a busy summer” or “you know, busy as usual!” We like to think of ourselves as industrious bees, buzzing around from one thing to the next, our sense of self-worth coming from being in high demand.
I absorb this mind-set as much as anyone, and so when I call to interview people, I often say “I promise I won’t take much of your time.” But once, when interviewing someone at the top of a decent-size organization, she laughed at my opening line. “Laura,” she said, “I have as much time as we need to take.”
Her point, I soon realized, was that she had decided to talk to me. She had a choice over how to spend her time, and she had the ability to spend as much time on things as she wanted. If someone else wanted to talk with her, and she was doing something she wanted to do, well, that other person could wait. She had the ability not to take a call, not to go to a meeting, to keep her calendar open for what she felt was best for her to be doing at a given time. There were systems in place and deadlines got met, but her time was her own.
Needless to say, most of us don’t have that luxury. But our obsession with busyness as a sign of importance misses the point. Anyone can be busy. It’s easy to fill your time if that’s your only goal. In our hectic world, the ultimate sign of success is empty space on your calendar.
Empty space means that you control your time, and that you do not have to bend to other people’s schedules and whims. If you want to work from home–and then go swimming at 3 p.m. on a beautiful August afternoon–you can do so. If you want to spend the morning thinking through a perplexing but promising new line of business, you can. If you don’t want to do meetings on Wednesdays, well, the people who want to meet with you want to meet you enough that they’ll take other days of the week.
That is power. It’s not about having a million things to do. Everyone has a million things to do. The ultimate sign of success is having a million things to do but only doing a few of them.
[Image: Flickr user Liz West]