Being Busy Doesn’t Make You Better
Mirror, mirror, on the wall … who’s the BUSIEST of them all?
Have you ever noticed some people need to be the busiest in the room? Like there’s a competition for having the longest to-do list? The conversations go something like this:
You: Hey, nice to see you, how are you doing?
Them: OMG! I’m so busy! I’ve got SO MUCH to do! There just aren’t enough hours in the day for me!
If that’s familiar, you know how the rest of the conversation goes. The person breathlessly tells you everything they’ve got going on. They’re just so, so, busy! Same story, every time.
Maybe you hear it every day and you’re used to it.
However, is it possible this Very Busy Person (VBP) … is you?
I don’t mind telling you that several years ago, I was the VBP.
Then one day, a good friend reflected on my language and behavior. She said, “Carla, do you realize how often you say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so busy, but if I can just make it until next month (or until December — or Spring — or the weekend) — then I know I’ll be okay!’ “
As she held up this mirror, I realized I was equating my self-worth with how much I had to do. The busier I was, the better I felt about myself. And the better I felt about my business the more I needed to share it with everyone!
“No one is too busy to tell you how busy they are.” – bemorewithless.com
Maybe you know what that’s like? You’re crazy busy. You’re barely hanging on. You complain about it to others! But whenever things start to ease up and you get a little break, the next thing you know, you’re busy AGAIN.
Let’s think about that … Is “busyness” really what we want as our definition of success? If that’s our definition, I should be famous. On any given day, my to-do list can compete with the best of them. And I’ll bet yours can, too.
But — and it’s a BIG but — I now believe success is not about how many things you have to do. It’s about how effective you are during each day. In fact, not everything of value can be measured in time or quantity.
If you’ve been making busyness your badge of honor, take a look at the three Power Challenges below. A change of perspective and approach can help you feel more balanced and find a healthier source of self-esteem.
Power Challenge 1: Consider Impact Before Quantity
Let’s start with a quick but honest self-reflection. How important is being “busy” to you? Do you judge yourself or your self-worth based on your activities?
If you’re not sure, imagine how you feel about yourself when someone else tells you how busy they are. Or when you see it in their social media. Do you compare yourself in a negative way? Feel down on yourself because you aren’t as busy as they are? Or maybe you’re just as busy, but somehow their busyness is better than your busyness?
Let me suggest a different way of thinking. Forget about trying to be busy or prove you’re busy.
Instead, think about what positive impacts you create through the things you do.
How do your activities benefit people you care about? Impact your workplace or colleagues? Help the community? How do your activities express your values and relate to the vision you have for being your best self?
In other words, be more concerned about quality than quantity.
And here’s some good news.
If you’re not happy with your impact, you can change that! And if you are happy with your impact, then let yourself feel good about it. Let go of comparison. Celebrate yourself!
A period of reflection can generate new ideas, directions, plans, or changes.
Power Challenge 2: Complement Activity with Stillness
If you stop to think about it, what is work, anyway? This seems like such a basic question, but how you answer it is important.
Does your answer include activities such as attending meetings, creating documents, crunching numbers, managing accounts, nurturing client or vendor relationships, selling, and so on? Or hands-on work such as carrying out medical procedures with patients or doing construction-related work, or teaching? Or providing any kind of service to others?
All of that is fine.
But did you also include thinking, processing, reflecting or stillness? If not, why?
So many of us don’t consider our quiet time to be real “work.” But I believe it is work. In fact, it’s very important for being effective in what we do.
“… And in an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still.” – Pico Iyer
You’ve probably heard that saying about losing the forest for the trees.
If we’re always go-go-go, we can get lost in the trees, lost in the details. We will miss the bigger picture. And sometimes we even end up heading down a path that’s not really where we want to go.
There is a beauty and stillness looking at a piece of blank paper in front of you, and simply THINKING about what you’re going to do. That internal processing is every bit as much “work” as all the other more “active” things you do.
So, this Power Challenge is to build a bit of time into each day (or at least each week) for thinking and reflection. Let yourself be quiet and still. If you’re a person who loves “to-do’s” and “action items,” just make this an item on your list. And put it in your calendar, too.
What’s the benefit? That period of stillness or reflection can generate new ideas. New directions. New plans. Changes or improvements. It can re-energize you. Help you find new inspiration. It can give you important new perspectives.
Give it a try! At first, you might feel like you “should” be working. When this happens (and it will), remind yourself you ARE working. You’re just working in a different way. A way that complements your activities to bring about better results.
Power Challenge 3: Stop Reporting Your Long List
In the workplace, many of us are expected to “report out” on our activities during team meetings. These reports are supposed to help everyone stay in the loop and coordinate efforts.
But with some people, it’s a laundry list. They fill up time, demonstrating how much they have accomplished or how much they still have to do.
Underneath, they are afraid for their jobs. They feel they have to prove their value to the organization.
Now, it is true that some jobs are about “moving your pencil every minute.” In these active jobs, you’re judged with metrics around quantity. Sales quotas are an example.
But many jobs also have a component that’s not task-driven. That’s not measured in quantity.
For example, your job might include creating a vision or setting goals. Or debriefing “lessons learned.” Or brainstorming how you can create even more impact within your role.
Even if you’re in a metric-driven role such as sales, it’s worth taking time to reflect. How did your calls or meetings go? What could you have done differently? Are there other pockets of people you could contact? And so on.
Forget about trying to be busy or prove you’re busy.
When it’s time to report out on your work, drop the laundry list. Try any or all of these strategies instead:
- Let go of trying to “prove” anything. Instead, make it your goal to engage others and share what they need to know.
- State that you’re sharing details of only your top two or three most important items in terms of impact or importance. Add that you’ll be happy to take questions about any items not mentioned.
- Share some results of your “thinking work” — reflections, observations, analyses, proactive ideas for improving your own performance or work products, etc.
- If you must report on many activities, stay high-level on all but your top two or three.
And by the way, here’s one more thing. Stop judging OTHER people — including your own employees — when they have a short to-do list. There’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, assess their effectiveness and impact.
Be Busy for the Right Reasons
Nowadays, whenever someone asks me how I’m doing, I try to respond without using the word “busy.” I find something else to say, such as, “I’m great! And how are you?” I keep it simple! I invite you to give that a try, too.
And by the way, if you’ve read my posts or heard me speak before, you know I love Mondays. That mantra came about because I always had this long list of to-dos. If I didn’t embrace my list in a positive way, it would weigh heavily on me.
So, if you’re going to be busy, be busy for the right reasons. Not to pump up your self-worth. Not to be a success. Not to prove anything at all! Rather, to enjoy your life, express your values and create positive impact — being your best you!
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Carla inspires leaders and team members — and provides real-world tips to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Contact her today.