Friday, October 10, 2014

Don't Fight Busyness, Elevate It.


Recently whenever I ask someone how they are doing I hear variations of “crazy busy,” “so busy I can’t think,” or “I’m slammed.” Frankly I’m tired of hearing it. I just read an HBR blog on this busyness syndrome and how to fight it. Honestly, I don’t want to fight busyness because that’s a losing battle, but I want to change the focus.

Think about it. All of us are busy; busy creating a life, loving others, doing our job, or we are busy living. So what? The first definition of busy I found is “actively or fully engaged or occupied.” Hey wait? That’s the way I want to live my life! I hope I can describe every day that way. But most of us mean the 2nd and 4th definitions “overcrowded or cluttered with detail,” “crowded with or characterized by much activity.” But honestly even those don’t sound too bad.

The real challenge is that saying “I’m crazy busy” has become a badge of honor. We brag about how much work we have to do and how there is no time for our lives. Perhaps it makes us feel important. Really? We want to live like this? I don’t.

And more to the point, this busyness syndrome can get in the way of achieving anything. Many people point to their calendars and inboxes to justify how they can’t get another thing done. But I wonder what they are doing. I meet plenty of busy people. A few of them actually accomplish something.

Recently I worked with a multinational corporation that wanted to change the dialogue around performance reviews for their employees. They realized that most employees arrived for their year-end reviews armed with all of the projects they worked on during the year and how hard they worked. This company decided to look at “business impact” instead of activity. Instead of only talking about how many projects, tasks, or meeting occurred, the question became “what was the impact of this work on the business?”  It radically changed the conversation and it changed the mindset.

Think about how we would reset our lives if we looked at impact. If you schedule time with your kids, ask yourself what impact it had on them, or you? It might make you put your smart phone down to have a greater impact. Or that writing project you are working on? Did you spend a couple of hours at your desk, or did you accomplish something, actually get some pages written? What was the impact of the time spent working? We can even use this gauge in a more dramatic fashion and ask the question, what impact has my life made?

We are all busy. It’s called living. But being busy can be a smoke screen full of sound and fury and signifying nothing (with apologies to the Bard). By changing the litmus test of our lives we can move from crowded calendars to meaningful calendars. If we concern ourselves with impact our meetings, dates, even playtimes take on more significance. And finally if we live our lives focused on our impact on others and the impact we leave, we will dramatically change our world. Isn’t that better than just being busy? 

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