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Three Tips for Getting Un-Busy

Being ‘busy’ used to feel like a badge of honor to me. I can’t tell you how many times I felt wanted, appreciated or needed simply because I had a lot to do and people asking me to help. I’m here to say now that being busy is not a sign of achievement, it’s a sign of under-achievement. Being ‘busy’ means that you’re doing yourself and your organization a disservice in that you are not focusing yourself and your valuable thoughts (that’s why they pay you the big bucks right??) to making the organization better. Here are some tips you can follow that I’ve practiced in getting less ‘busy’ and being able to focus more of your attention on more critical (not urgent) things.

Be Strict with your Calendar

Meetings are the bane of a lot of our existences. Our time is valuable and yet we feel free to give it away to whoever asks first. Have you ever opened your calendar in the morning and just felt deflated knowing full well that you were not going to achieve anything that day except attend a bunch of meetings? Think about how that preys on your psyche and deflates your ability to bring your ‘best self’ to work. Focus on clearing significant portions of your day to focus on what your organization needs you to be doing most. How do you add value? If you can end each day by saying to yourself (or someone else) how you added value to the organization today – count that as a victory. Now I don’t mean blocking off your entire workweek (bully for you if you’re able to but that’s likely not realistic) but you need more than the 15-30 minute blocks of time you have between meetings to focus on the critical things. Try for 2-hour gaps to start and see where that takes you.

Live by Your Eisenhower Matrix

I’m sure you’ve seen what an Eisenhower Matrix is but for those who haven’t, it’s simply a two-by-two matrix with Importance and Urgency as the two axes. Take your to-do list and determine if it’s important and/or urgent (or neither) and put it in the appropriate box. If it’s urgent and important – do it now. If it’s urgent but not important – see if you can get one of your teammates to help you and take it on. If it’s important but not urgent, make sure you plan time to get at it (maybe block some time off in your calendar for this). If it’s not important and not urgent then you should ask yourself why it’s on your list to begin with.

Learn that Not Being Busy is OK

I’ve personally struggled with this – not being busy gave me a sense of not being valuable. But the less busy I got, the more value I added (interesting paradox). Build up your confidence in your ability to deliver more value with more critical thinking and you will quickly find that being busy is a true enemy of real productivity. Embracing that working from 8-5 is ok and that the 16-hour days you used to work usually only yielded about 6-8 really productive hours (and I’m probably over-estimating that).

Being busy is not the great thing that some extoll it to be. Find ways to simply ‘think’ at work – focus and execute.


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