Busy to Productive

Busy is the new black

How are you? Oh you know, busy!

Someone passing by you

Busy is the new black. It seems like a synonym to success. If you are a high-performance professional, you are busy all the time. At least that is what you should be! How is it going? Good, less busy than last week at least. All good, busy as ever. So so, it is really busy this week. Really, watch yourself, and check your answer next time someone asks. Is busy productive?

What is the problem with being busy?

Busy has all sorts of nefarious effects. You are likely to feel like you are always running, borderline overwhelmed, never accomplishing everything. The hamster on the wheel without the stop button available. I found that I have myself spent a few years busy. Busy on GSD. And what sh*t was I doing? Mostly I was just doing, ensuring my domino kept standing (or at least most of it), juggling between failed attempts of perfection. Busy doing everything. Busy letting life happen to me.

Problem #1: You have no time

Or so you think. When you are busy you keep your foot on the pedal and run from one thing to the next. You have time for nothing else other than being busy. In fact, the line about “you want something done, ask a busy person” does not apply to you and whoever thought of it must have never been as busy as you are. Do you recognise the feeling? Never time to call your friends or family, never time to go to the gym, never time to get that manicure.

At some point, one of my social media straplines was “sleeping takes too much time“. That resumed in all how I felt about time. I just did not have enough of it. I am certain this was at the core of my mental health struggle a few years back. Wanting more time to do more things, better and ever more perfect. I had no time. I was afraid I would never have enough time in my life to do everything that I wanted. And there were so many ideas in my head. But never enough time, no matter how much I gave up on sleep. I wanted more time, more time to be busy.

Problem #2: You don’t have time to think

If you recognise many of the feelings expressed in problem #1, you are likely to recognise the next and biggest problem. You have no time to think.

You feel like everything happens to you and you barely notice the time going by. Suddenly, you find yourself in meetings where you realize you don’t quite get it as you never found the time to read the briefing materials. And you find yourself flying somewhere realizing you did not book any of the places you wanted to see because you did not even think of it. You find your calendar full of meetings, including when you are meant to arrive and leave and when you are meant to have lunch, which inevitably, you skip. There is just no time to eat.

When I went on holiday, Hubby B started making me take books along, enough to keep me more than busy. Without the books, and whenever we would sit on the beach on day 1, I had a business idea 2 hours into it. I had time to think, my brain was suddenly unleashed into its creativity. I wanted to write, I wanted to read and learn, I wanted to create. And I wanted to have more time to think. There was so much in my head, I rarely had time to do anything else. I got anxious about it.

Problem #3: You don’t have time to adjust

“When we’re busy and stressed, we often default to working on whatever has the most imminent deadline, even if it’s not particularly important”

HBR, 4 ways busy people sabotage themselves

Lack of time means you need to follow things as they are set. You lack time to adjust to unforeseen events. In fact, the famous sentence I told my friend Renato many years ago will dwell on my brain forever. “Sara, your life is like a domino, all the pieces have to be up at all times otherwise what happens?“. I had no time for it to fail. Nor had I any time to adjust.

This is particularly negative if you have a creative or business development work. What can you really develop if you have such a narrow mindset of your possibilities? It is like everything in your life is limited by time and given you have no more of it what is the point of adjusting. You just have to keep up with the program, and everything is going to be all right.

Problem #4: You don’t have time for people

You start compromising on any time away from being busy. Seeing people starts feeling like an interruption of your daily life. You would love to go out to dinner, but then you will be home late, you can no longer do what you planned to do. Or it ruins your sleep, and what happens to your carefully laid out plan for the next day.

The spontaneity of social events starts being a scary thought. You limit the number of events you go to, and whenever friends try to speak your answer is “sorry I was busy” but inevitably you do not call back. You will call when you are less busy, when you have more time. I used to delay calling friends in the hope that I would have more time to really dedicate to them, chat, have life-changing conversations. I know now that is not real. On both sides. Life changing conversations don’t happen when planned. And both sides are likely to be busy anyway. But spontaneous lunchtime walks phone calls can go a long way in showing people that you care and you are there if that conversation needs to ever happen.

People #5: You don’t have time to have more time

I have trouble choosing which of these 5 problems is the most concerning for me, but this last one has certainly been where I have been most active. When you are infinitely busy, you have no time to think, to observe, to stop and to really allow yourself time.

There is an investment required in making time. You need to evaluate what is taking so much time, you need to be honest about what is important. Gretchen Rubin speaks of the concept of a “power hour”, an hour a week dedicated to improving her systems. Now, I don’t know that I will dedicate an hour a week to improve my systems, but I certainly dedicate at least 5-10 minutes a day to ensure my to-do list is top notch and helps me prioritize the important and the not so important. I use a bullet journal. I set myself goals. And I allow for thinking time and white space on my calendar.

Making time to have time, and to grow, has really been a crucial step I have taken in my life in the last 12 months. I made time for time.

You have more time than you think – turning busy to productive

Last year, I found the book 168 hours, you have more time than you think, and I knew I was onto something. Suddenly some of the small steps I was doing were explained in a book. And suddenly, I had more time. I did not go as far as doing time-logging by the hour. But I was close. And the system I use for calendar colour coding and a to-do list by category allows me to watch out where I spend my time anyway.

A while back I wrote about time and about it being one of the few democratic assets. I believe the time is what makes us different, and how you approach time can really make a difference in your life.

Now, I no longer say I don’t have time, even though I sometimes have to stop myself in the middle of a sentence as I start my usual “I don’t have time for this”. I have started talking about priorities. We all have 168 hours in a week. If you sleep 50 and work another 50 or 60, there is plenty left. So what are you doing with those?

I have accepted now, that I have time, and it is the usage of that time that defines me. How I enjoy it and live it no longer feeling overwhelmed by lack of time and eternal busyness.

Photo by Rob Curran on Unsplash

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