Is your business life burning you out – or is it the constant “busy-ness” that’s exhausting you? Is there REALLY a difference?!
Simply stated, YES. There is a critical difference that is based on the priorities that you use to determine your daily activities.
While it is noble, worthwhile, and even essential to actively participate in the strategic planning and daily operations of your professional life, don’t let your attempts to meet the demands of your business fall prey to “busy-ness.”
“Busy-ness” is analogous to a hamster constantly running on a wheel – but ultimately not getting any farther ahead. Still stuck on the wheel in its cage, the hamster nonetheless continues to do the same thing regardless of the result.
While the hamster might be enjoying the run, a business professional rarely sees the lack of movement as a good thing. Put another way, busy-ness is frantically treading water just to stay afloat.
No One Consciously Strives for a Life of Busy-ness
People generally like to see progress, results, or achievement. If you’re collapsing from exhaustion at night (but feel like your progress or results don’t match your effort), then you are a candidate for energy sapping “busy-ness.” But why?
A life of busy-ness often results from a lack of priorities or time management. Let me explain.
While we all have worthwhile goals that we generally want to achieve, it is far too common for days, weeks, months, or even years to pass by with little or no progress toward their attainment. Because our priorities determine our actions, our REAL priorities are found in what we spend the most time doing.
This is closely akin to time management – which requires prioritization as the foundation of how we structure our days and lives.
I know what you’re thinking:
“You don’t understand!
I have work responsibilities AND personal responsibilities.
People depend on me – and I’m only one person trying to do it all!”
This is the definition of crisis management – and crisis management is a contributing factor to burnout. Think of it this way: if you’re burned out, how are you going to have the energy to help anybody else – not even yourself?
But most of us DO have these competing priorities. The challenge is how to manage them.
The Culprits of Busy-ness
We don’t intentionally over-schedule our lives — that is, leaving NO time out between our actions to take of all these competing demands. But we do have to recognize the insidious culprits that create a life of busy-ness.
#1 – Meetings. While some might be necessary, the purpose of many is just showing up. Does anybody really know what the meeting’s purpose is? Or what the desired outcomes are? Or why we’ve even been invited to attend in the first place? But standing meetings and ad hoc meetings are often time wasters that drain time away from the more important duties and responsibilities. As a result, the busy-ness leads to constantly playing “catch up.”
#2 – The Rush of Activity. Being busy feels good – but only if we are also being productive. Doing “stuff” that is unimportant or mindless can be a respite from an over-scheduled life. But when we have nothing to show for our effort of constant motion and activity, it’s a short skip over to resentment. The unfocused activities inherent in busy-ness are NOT productive action.
#3 – Perfectionism. Perfectionists are notorious for creating additional “must do’s” on their “to do” lists. Coupled with a belief that “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” perfectionists tend to subvert their priorities due to the constant struggle to do it all. Perfectionists fundamentally don’t trust other people to do what they say they are going to do OR do it in a way that meets the perfectionist’s high standards. Perfectionists may feel a sense of omnipotence even though their overscheduled calendars prevent them from meeting their true goals due to busy-ness.
#4 – Avoidance and Procrastination. Be honest: do you really want to clean the garage? Or tackle that monstrous report? Or deal with the communication problems in your team? Probably not. But the pervasive Puritan work ethic compels us to do something because we can’t just do nothing! So, we do the easy stuff. The mindless stuff. The stuff that takes time…but isn’t really that important. Then, when we miss the deadline of the avoided behemoth, we can honestly assert that we simply didn’t have the time – we were “too busy” with the other stuff.
#5 – The Absence of Planning. I once saw a cartoon where an employee was sitting quietly at his desk. When his boss asked him what he was doing, he replied that he was thinking – to which the boss replied, “Well quit thinking and get back to work!” In the cultures of many modern workplaces, thinking and planning are the equivalent of day dreaming – but activity of any kind is considered to be working! Unfocused activity that is done simply for the sake of doing something is busy-ness – and investing time in the unimportant is the result of poor planning.
3 Tips to Replace Busy-ness with Focused Action
Instead of succumbing to action for its own sake, take a moment to decide what is truly important to YOU. What are the things that you need to do in order to create the legacy that you want to leave? Remember: you will leave a legacy even if you aren’t intentionally trying to do so.
Next, take stock of your weekly responsibilities in both your professional and personal lives. Estimate the amount of time that you think you need to complete each project – then be sure to include some “wiggle room” for unanticipated glitches or interruptions!
Finally, decide which projects must be completed by only you versus which can be delegated to others. When delegating, even if they might not be able to do it as “perfectly” as you would like, you need to determine whether this level of perfection is actually required in order to achieve the goal).
Being busy in activities that bring you joy and lead to your desired goals creates the path toward actualizing your legacy. Plus you’ll be more energized and self-actualizing.
In contrast, permitting yourself to be victimized by a life of busy-ness leads only to exhaustion, regret, and resentment.
You DO have the power to give up busy-ness and get back on the track to the business of your life. All it takes is the courage and commitment to live your life by your priorities.
Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model. An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube. To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com.