Over the course of a day, how many times do you hear the words: I’m just so busy? How often do you utter those words yourself?
Many of us say it like it’s a badge of honor, an indication of our self-worth. But what if it isn’t? Following the herd doesn’t make us stand out. To get to the next level in your career or business, the answer is often not to do more and be even busier but to consider how to do things differently. Choose not to buy into the collective delusion that busyness is a good thing. As Tim Ferris says in The 4-Hour Workweek, “Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding critically important but uncomfortable actions.”
If you’re busy all the time and not getting the results desired—individually or with a team—it may be because you’re not actually taking the time to first focus on the activities that move the needle. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: You make yourself so busy that you don’t have the time to reflect and get off the treadmill to review your actions. And so, you stay locked in a zone of busyness and limited thinking.
In fact, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see many of your activities are based on short-term, reactive thinking, prompting you to get caught up in the whirlwind of “urgent” tasks. As a result, you neglect to delegate and unload some of the less pressing responsibilities. When you’re constantly reacting, trying to do everything and putting out fires, your energy is cut down and so is your focus on long-term projects. Hence, the common excuse that people offer with a lack of inaction on the important items because they’re “too busy” (or most likely, distracted by immediate assignments).
I am not advocating for lack of action. In fact, I am a self-confessed action taker. The gap between me talking about doing something and acting is relatively small. However, I acknowledge that I can easily fall into the trap of busyness, especially if I perceive that other people are doing more than I am.
The interesting thing that I have discovered is that when I slow down, reflect, and reprioritize on the key focus areas, my results are accelerated. By slowing down, companies and individuals can speed up and deliver on outcomes and other metrics that determine success. Moreover, continuing to work in the way you always have is a sign that you’re staying in your comfort zone (even when constant busyness is making you feel less fulfilled and happy). And if you fail to develop the discipline to find and focus on the right activities, this is essentially laziness.
What can you do about it? I have a few recommendations that can help pull you out of the cycle of constant busyness.
Ease up immediately
Give yourself time off. That could be an hour or two, a day, or a week. Schedule this time off and remove all distractions coming from other people and technology. The idea of this time is to get out of your frenetic busy state and into a relaxed alpha brain-wave state, which is the optimal state for creative problem-solving and reflection. Doing this consistently is important, to challenge our busyness and gain new insights.
Identify activities that don’t move the needle
Reduce the number of things that you focus on by paring back to two to three core areas. You might need to experiment to work out which areas you should be focusing on. But the activities that you choose to do should, as far as possible, be aligned to your skills and talents and create the biggest impact in relation to key business metrics. For the activities that do not align in this way, consider stopping them, delegating as much as possible (using short-term, cheaper solutions, if necessary, as an interim), or creating a timeline to fill in the skills gaps you have.
Once you’ve identified key focus areas, stop writing endless to-do lists and reprioritize instead, so that most of your time is taken up by things that move the needle. Then, hold yourself accountable to doing these key things—consistently, every day—that move you closer to key results.
Yes, sometimes life and work will get in the way; but if you factor these elements into your planning, this should not take away from you focusing on the key things that matter every day. Anything outside of that, question why you are doing it and what the impact of doing it is.
Focus on important (not urgent)
Focusing on what is important is crucial to long-term success. For instance, it is easy to put off important and directive activities like crafting a company or personal vision and mission statement. We might tell ourselves that it is not urgent, but this is a faulty argument. This stalling and avoiding may lead to problems further down the line—for example, when a team has no common vision and goal to work toward, or a company marketing message is inconsistent, or the actions every employee takes are confused and mismatched.
Focusing on these foundational blocks stops early issues from becoming urgent problems down the line.
Sara Sabin is a coach to executive and entrepreneur leaders. She is a business owner who has launched many startups of her own.