Podcast 104: Busy people

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This is podcast 104 and it’s about busy people. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” Busy people get more done. Let’s amend that to busy productive people, since we know that it’s quite possible to be busy about nothing.

That kind of busy person stays in constant motion but doesn’t get things done, certainly not in proportion to the amount of time spent. The busy about nothing person likes the feeling of being in a whirlwind. There’s the adrenaline appeal of rushing around that can prevent you from realizing that you’re just wasting time.

Busy people are goal directed in their use of time. I’ve written about how deadlines focus your attention in podcast 67 and 94. Bp’s, let’s call them, channel their time to fit all the tasks they’re responsible for into the container they need to fit in, one day, for example.

Busy people don’t mind being asked to do more. They don’t seem burdened by such requests. They accomplish so much because they’re are used to fitting a lot in and know how to do it effectively. To me, this is proof that productive people are happier and they enjoy getting things done.

If you feel tired and put upon by all that you have to do in a day, and resentful when anyone asks you to do more, it’s probably time to examine all those commitments and weed out the unpleasant ones. Maybe you don’t have a dream job. Even then there are probably ways you can turn around or reframe tasks that drag you down.

Busy people realize they don’t have time to waste. Although I’ve recommended building contingency time into your schedule for unexpected events, this technique can backfire.

There’s a fine line between having sufficient time to do something and having extra time. The problem is, that extra time can be an expanding sinkhole that not only stretches out longer than it should, but swallows your focus whole, like a house.

They are very aware of what must get done on any given day. They keep that overview in their heads so they aren’t distracted by things that DON’T need to get done. They don’t end the day with unproductive, unaccounted for chunks of time. That kind of clarity about how you need to spend your time is priceless.

It’s very clear to a busy person that there’s no room in the day for _________ (fill in the blank). It’s important to note that I’m not talking about keeping your nose to the grindstone and not taking breaks or enjoying yourself. If you’ve been listening to my podcast, you know that breaks and naps are ninja productivity tools that you neglect at your peril.

Still it seems odd to ask someone who’s already busy to take on more. The reason we do it is that those busy people tend to be very reliable. We’re confident that they’ll do this new task, on time and well. The reason for that could be what productivity author Laura VanderKam writes, that reliable people become busy people, not the other way around.

Are you ready to get busier so you can be more productive and maybe happier? Here’s how.

Schedule more time off. Yes, that’s right. Give yourself less time to do the same amount of work. Leave the office on time. Don’t come in on weekends. It may feel like a challenge, but I’ll bet you find that you didn’t quite as much time after all. It often turns out that some of the time you used was not truly adding value.

Streamline your work. That means don’t invent everything from scratch. Tweak and reuse documents you’ve already written. Use old projects as models for new ones. Recycle things. Create templates.

Most jobs have tasks that don’t require serious brain work or time from you to complete. Determine what’s needed to get the job done and don’t do more than that. This way you’ll spend less time on routine work and more time doing important things.

Take on one more thing. This needs to be something that really jazzes you and makes you feel energized. It may be something you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t feel you had time for. Something that has the potential to be so satisfying that the positive energy spills over to all the rest of the things you have to do.

What you can do now. Try one of the three ideas I mentioned just now to get busier. Keep track of how your time goes, how productive you are and, most importantly, how much better you feel.