My client Betsy started our coaching call last week by saying, “January was wild! My production was off the charts, triple my average. And I’m not sure why.”
She was stumped. Her customer base was exactly the same. She’d worked a few extra hours, but certainly not three times as much. No new support, whiz-bang technology, or major change in the market.
So why were her results so different?
Turns out the why wasn’t mysterious at all.
She’d deployed her time and energy differently in January.
It’s not as if she wasn’t working hard before.
Betsy is consistently ranked in the top 15% of salespeople at her company. Her customers love her and she has a great reputation internally.
She certainly hasn’t been slacking … she’s been busy!
But here’s what she realized as we talked.
Before, she’d been investing a piece of her work-busyness in:
- getting ready to be ready,
- doing non-essential tasks to avoid potentially difficult conversations,
- working on things someone else could have easily done more quickly, and
- piddling around with a variety of low-impact and no-impact activities when she ran out of energy or mind-space to do something more useful.
What changed in January was that she stopped spending time on things that didn’t have a meaningful impact. Instead, she shifted that time to activities that had the greatest potential for impact.
There’s “good” busy and “not-so-useful” busy.
And it’s not always immediately obvious which is which, until you pay attention to how each one feels.
When you’re busy with tasks and activities that support your success and align with what’s most important, it feels good. You know on a very deep level that you’re making good choices and investing your time and energy – your busyness – in what matters, what’s worthwhile.
On the other hand, when your efforts aren’t moving you forward, making a difference, or bringing you joy, it’s exhausting. That “not-so-useful” busy is frustrating and stressful; it feels like running hard and going nowhere. It’s a busyness treadmill.
We’re all at risk of landing on the busyness treadmill.
It doesn’t take much running in place to wear you out, push a goal out of reach, or create stress and overwhelm.
When you step off the treadmill, you open up space to focus on what matters most to you: having an impact, leading your team, serving your clients, accomplishing a goal, spending time in your daughter’s classroom, practicing yoga, community involvement, relaxing – whatever’s important to you.
There are three things you need to do to keep your busy aligned with what matters most.
1. Practice awareness.
The busier you are, the easier it is to make unconscious choices.
When I stumble onto the busyness treadmill, it’s not because I think it’ll be fun or productive. It’s because I’ve stopped being aware of how I’m making choices.
The best way to be aware of your choices is to have a process for paying attention.
Build a few minutes into the beginning, middle, and end of your day to assess what’s most important. As you go through the day, notice where you’re actually putting your attention, what you’re choosing to do.
2. Be intentional.
You’ll likely have days when you’re feeling tired, unmotivated, overwhelmed, bored, or resistant. On those days it can be a struggle to keep your attention on what’s most important.
Don’t go unconscious and land on the busyness treadmill. Get intentional.
What’s one productive thing you can do? Is there an itsy-bitsy step you can take to move towards a goal? And if you can’t muster up even that much energy, then clean your desk, get organized for tomorrow, or simply leave early.
3. Act courageously.
A few days ago, Betsy ran out of fuel mid-day and felt herself losing focus. And she did something very out of character.
She left the office, surprised her kids at school, and enjoyed her afternoon. For her, that was an act of courage. She stepped through her worry about what her co-workers would think and walked right past the busyness treadmill.
It often takes courage to stop when you’re tired, say “No” when the request will bump a higher priority, get past your own resistance, or take action on what’s most important even when it’s scary.
Awareness. Intention. Courage.
Live with all three and your busyness will yield highly fulfilling returns.
“Most people are so busy knocking themselves out trying to do everything they think they should do, they never get around to what they want to do.” ~ Kathleen Winsor, novelist