Are You Too Busy To Be Successful?

Being busy has become a badge of honor. It’s viewed as a sign of working hard. But too often busyness is the result of focusing on the wrong outcomes. Are you too busy to be successful?

We’ve figured out that if we want to feel successful and have others think well of us, we will get busy. Working hard, long hours, with a busy schedule are surely the signs of a top performer, right?

In my work with leaders, they say their number one problem is time management. They just can’t get enough done. And they can’t find time for the non-urgent, important things that they know in their gut they should be working on.

As I begin peeling back the layers of a leader’s schedule, work habits, measurements, and objectives I find a different story. Busyness is not a mark of forward progress, sometimes it’s a sign of stagnation.

Busyness takes over. The tail wags the dog. They work harder, longer, and busier with decreasing results. Until a leader addresses the underlying issues of their busyness they are unable to achieve what they long for.

5 Ways Busyness Keeps You From Being Successful

I’ve noticed 5 ways busyness keeps leaders from being successful. Often we have a little of all of these. Here’s what may be happening if you’re too busy:

  1. Busyness props up our self-image. We complain-brag a lot. You know, complaining while knowing people will be impressed because you’re successful / important / talented enough to have that problem. “I’ve got meetings back-to-back every day this week.” Or my go-to favorite, “I’ve had 7 speaking engagements in 3 countries the past 2 months.” Complain-bragging about our busyness is a way to fish for compliments. Busyness can be a false self-image boost. Don’t fall for it! The affirmation we receive reinforces busyness for busyness’ sake. And that’s not helpful.
  2. Busyness makes us dabble. To dabble means “to work or involve oneself superficially or intermittently especially in a secondary activity or interest.” We dabble, a lot, in our work. Answering emails, attending meetings, and keeping up with social media are often superficial, secondary activities. Yet, these activities have become measures of our success. They are actually indicators of dabbling. We do them because it’s far easier to dabble than to do deep work.
  3. Busyness hedges our bets. Restaurants do this. My foodie son Benjamin judges a restaurant by its menu. If the menu has more than 15 items and more than one food genre, like Italian or Mexican, he’s not interested. “You can’t do everything well. ‘More’ means average,” he says. Like the restaurants with every type of food on their menu, many of us find it difficult to focus, say no, and eliminate because we are afraid of missing out. It’s safer to do a little of everything because we never know which of these will make us successful. The problem with this approach is by not focusing you are not going deep enough to make anything exceptional. You’re busy staying average.
  4. Busyness hides our lack of productivity. When I’m moderately busy, I become more time efficient. I feel productive. After all I got a lot done. The question to ask is: Was I productive with the important things? Efficiently doing unimportant tasks isn’t productive. What’s more, because I’m so busy doing these things I don’t have time to consider what is most important to my larger goals. These important things often take time and mental energy to define and implement. If you evaluate your productivity by how busy you are, you’re using a losing measurement.
  5. Busyness keeps us from being disciplined. Busyness takes very little discipline. You see, it takes discipline to reflect on what you really want to achieve, make a decision to pursue it, say no to other opportunities, keep working on it even when no one cares, and not stop until you achieve it. Our normally too-busy lives don’t allow us the margin to do all this. Instead, we fill our day with unimportant tasks that keep the wheels of other people’s busy-machine rolling.

The Antidote to Busyness is Focus

Leaders are good at projecting the correct image. We can defend our busyness as important activities. We have “no choice” but to do these things. This posture can be a smoke-screen that makes us feel good, but keeps us from being successful.

Though it will be difficult, you can choose to get off the hamster-wheel of busyness by focusing.

We have to come to grip with the fact that we simply cannot do everything we set out to do. Efficiency and productivity are not our biggest problems, focus is. We need to do less and be less busy, to be more productive. Less is more.

To beat busyness ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. What do you want to accomplish?
  2. How do you do that?
  3. What are the primary tasks you do to make that happen?

For me, I want to change the results leaders get in all their relationships – at home and work – by changing their conversations. I primarily do that by teaching them coaching skills through workshops. My primary tasks to make that happen is to write and speak to my audience, develop new courses, and meet individually with interested people. All the rest of running my business supports these things. It’s very easy for a thousand other things to push out my primary tasks. That’s busyness for me.

Once you’ve identified what you should be doing with your time, take control of your busyness. Identify what makes you busy and then schedule it so it doesn’t fill your day. I could sit all day and do nothing but answer emails. Knowing this, I schedule time to processing emails only 2-3 times a day. This allows me to control my email instead my email controlling me.

To focus myself on the important tasks, and the keep from dabbling, I set 3 important weekly and then 3 daily objectives I work to complete each day and week. These objectives are related to my primary tasks. With these tasks identified, I schedule them to make sure I focus on important things.

As a result of doing all this I find myself less busy, but more productive than when our organization was much smaller and less complicated. Focus is the antidote of busyness.

Question: How do you control busyness? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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