Busy Is Best--Says Who?

“I’m just so busy.”

It’s like an auto-reply message we’ve all turned on in response to the question, “How are things?”

How are things?! Ugh, it’s so busy. There’s much going on. So much to do!

Earlier this year at ISA’s Annual Business Retreat, however, Juliet Funt, the owner of WhiteSpace at Work, asked members a different question:

“When was the last time you caught someone thinking at work?”

Well, that stops you in your tracks.

Just about every organization has experienced the effects of disruption and change to one degree or another over the past several years. And it’s left us feeling like we’re in a constant sprint to stay ahead. At this time of year especially, it’s a mad dash to the finish line as we hustle to get everything wrapped up and tied down before the holidays—and before the frenzy picks right back up where it left off on January 2nd. There’s simply no time to think.

But what are we losing in this constant frenzy of activity? As Juliet pointed out, so many companies, their leaders and, as a result, their employees have traded full-speed exertion for essential thinking time. The mental power that is so critical to the future of our businesses is being wasted on “low-value touchpoints” and unproductive busyness.

“Thoughtfulness isn’t ‘in’ any more,” she points out, “so even though we live in the world of ‘thought factories,’ we sit with all this waste around us and do nothing about it.”

As you prepare for a new year, now is the perfect time to resolve, once and for all, to do something about it.

Reclaiming the Time to Think (continued below)

Juliet encourages leaders to sanction WhiteSpace—a strategic pause between activities. If this sounds like an impossible dream, or a way to exacerbate your already-overloaded calendar and to-do list, maybe you’re missing the real culprit here. Are you filling your schedules and lists with truly valuable work? Most of us have not only adapted to this frenzied pace, we’ve become numb to it. We don’t realize how much of our time gets stolen away.

Think about it:

  • Does every email require an instant response (or even a response at all)?
  • Are people in your company conditioned to believe that they’d better respond immediately?
  • Do you need a full hour for every meeting just because that’s the default setting on your calendar?
  • Is it really going to make a difference if you change the size of the box on that PowerPoint slide one more time?

When you start to tally it up, you’ll begin to see all those places where that thinking time is actually there, just waiting for you to reclaim it.

Here are a few ways to do it:

1. Take stock: You can start by tracking how you’re currently using your time. Use a time tracking tool or simply log it in a notebook. Get it all down. Everything. Then review it and look for patterns. Are certain activities taking more time than they should? Are you allowing low-value touchpoints and other activities to creep into your routine? Make note of what’s stealing your time.

2. Reframe it: Author Laura Vanderkam suggests changing your language to remind you that “time is a choice.” She advises, “Instead of saying ‘I don’t have time,’ try saying ‘it’s not a priority,’ and see how that feels.” It’s a simple shift, but it can completely reframe the way you see your choices and how they affect you. Is Thinking isn’t a priority really what you want to be communicating—to yourself and to your staff?

3. Install filters: Juliet points out that we all have good qualities that, when taken to their extreme, can turn into “productivity thieves.” Drive becomes overdrive. Excellence morphs into perfection. Information becomes overload. Activity turns into frenzy. She offers some filtering questions to help combat those thieves. Ask yourself:

(Overdrive) Is there anything I can let go of?
(Perfection) Where is “good enough” good enough?
(Overload): What do I truly need to know?
(Frenzy) What deserves my attention?

4. Find a buddy: We often don’t see the behaviors in ourselves, but we’ll instantly see them in others. This is why it’s so helpful to have trusted sounding boards we can turn to. They’re the people who will call us out on our “stuff” and help us stay accountable to our goals—and vice versa. ISAers use both informal channels to do this as well as formal groups like Raft Groups for confidential insights, sanity checks and support.  

Don’t let “I’m so busy” be your standard reply in 2018. Now more than ever, thinking is a priority, for your team, your business and yourself. Make sure it receives the status it deserves.

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