The Myth of Busyness

This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
1803 – 1882

Last time, I discussed how important it is to accept that you can’t do everything. This week, I want to touch on a related topic: the myth of busyness.

These days, everyone is busy, jumping from one job to the next and forgoing sleep because we don’t have enough time for everything we need and want to do. Our culture seems to glorify busyness, assuming that anyone who isn’t busy must be either lazy or non-essential. Being busy has become a badge of importance and a sign of how much we’re needed.

Unfortunately, you can be extremely busy but still not get much done.

It’s very easy to fill up your time and your days with tasks and activities. But if you aren’t performing those tasks efficiently — or worse yet, if those tasks aren’t the most important ones, or aren’t even necessary — you can spend a lot of time but not generate much in the way of results.

So what can you do to avoid the busyness trap of always working but never making progress?

  1. Set your priorities and have a plan. Identify your most important tasks and do them first. If you don’t set goals for each day and schedule blocks of time for key jobs, it’s easy to get sidetracked with low-value activities like checking email or social media.
  2. Stay focused. Switching between tasks breaks your concentration and costs you time. With big projects, aim for 30 to 60 minutes of uninterrupted work — then break for email and phone calls.
  3. Don’t take on other people’s jobs. You don’t have to be involved in every task, every job, every project. Learn to trust your co-workers, friends and relatives to manage some things without you.
  4. Don’t aim for perfection. Chasing perfection will not only frustrate you, it will result in your spending more time than necessary on many activities. There’s always more you could do to improve your work, but each additional tweak tends to add less and less value to the overall result. Weigh your efforts against the bottom-line benefits and don’t overdo it.
  5. Try to reduce or eliminate time-wasters. Set limits on low-value activities. Don’t check Facebook every time you take a break; don’t check news headlines multiple times a day; don’t read every article or watch every video your friends and coworkers share; and don’t let casual conversations stretch on endlessly.

Don’t buy into the myth that being busy means you’re accomplishing things. Start making gradual changes in your daily activities and become smarter about how you use your time. Before long, you’ll be feeling less frazzled and making real progress — and that’s worth a lot more than just being busy.

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.
Peter F. Drucker
1909 – 2005

Copyright © 2014 John Chancellor and Cheryl Chancellor

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