Imagine for a second that you and I are walking down a busy down town street, and we casually see a clump of loose $100 notes fluttering in the wind – blown together with a pile of old McDonald’s rubbish, Red Bull drink cans and other modern city detritus. We’d be a fool not to go over, and liberate the cash from the rubbish.
“What luck!” we would proclaim. We’d praise each other for our diligence and fortune, as we wiped the muck off those plastic monetary notes.
Now imagine if we were deeply in discussion. Worrying about the next events. Discussing plans. Choosing options. Would we have seen them? Would we have noticed the opportunity? Maybe perhaps, maybe not.
Now, what would be the probability of seeing those $100 notes if we were driving a car down that street – rushing to our next appointment – on that day rather than walking? Almost Zero.
The Busy Fool
I have been thinking about the bout of busyness I have been struggling through of recent times and the effect is has been having on my productivity and strategic activities, and I havn’t been happy with what I have been contemplating.
I have reached the conclusion that busyness is a key reason why people never succeed.
It’s one reason why the owner-tradesman, struggling to survive and feed his family never can ‘break out’ of the personal exertion game and magnify his or her earning opportunity. Why public servants, shuffling paper to and from each other in the creation of yet more pointless activity fail to achieve real benefit to the community.
You can tell you are on the road to failure if you define ‘busyness’ or activity as success.
Henry David Thoreau: It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?
Busyness robs Judgment
When you are busy, you lose the ability to judge effectively.
A gaggle of Junior staff each seeking 5 minutes of your time, every 5 minutes for hours on end. Walk in staff, coming in to see you unannounced. Phone calls and emails. Interruption.
When we are busy we can loose the perspective of importance of particular decisions and judging correctly in the sea minor decisions that flood our desk.
Maintaining decision making against absolutes (key goals), gives way to decision making amongst comparatives (current available opportunities) and the problem of “Group-think”.
We can be influenced by others in assisting them in solving their problems. Another person’s priorities (even your own staff’s that you have given them) shouldn’t be necessarily yours.
You can end up being lead by other person’s or situation’s problems and priorities, rather than leading and overcoming them.
I worry about our current government and prime minister Kevin Rudd, and his exhortation of staff to over-work to “serve the country” verses the quality of decisions that they are making.
The Myth of the Modern Work-Life Balance Problem.
I see many people fall victim of the so called modern problem of ‘work-life’ balance. I don’t think it actually exists.
There is no ‘work-life’ balance, it’s all about busyness. I know many marriages fail when children cause busyness of one partner to the point of neglect of the other. I know many other marriages and families destroyed by misproportioned priorities, of the busy mother or father.
I see fathers becoming work-a-holics, placing priorities to the company or their career, usually disguised as busyness, over the ‘true’ rational priorities of spouse and family. Equally, I see mothers, neglect their children and families as they become over busy with career, community and caring. Demands of the ‘company/career’ ‘must’ be met in preference over short term neglect of ‘true’ priorities, again and again and again and again.
These are of particular problem in situations of busy times of our lives with young children, accelerating career and caring for elderly parents or grandparents.
These are all cases, I would argue that fall in the general issue of busyness causing poor decisions and priorities to be distorted, not about “work-life” balance. Rarely, does a person rationally decide that family isn’t a priority, but relationships become subsumed in a mire of mal-aligned time and priority decisions.
These are not new problems. You can see them in the character of the scrouge in the 1800’s Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”. Or in the Bible in Luke 10:38-42 when Jesus scolds Martha about complaining about Mary not helping at all when she was so busy serving guests.
6 Ways to defeat busyness.
(1) Control your diary and Lead.
Don’t let others place entries in your diary. I have seen problems when organisations allow modern calendaring systems such as Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, or Novell Groupwise, start clogging up priorities with endless meetings of large groups of ‘stakeholders’.
(2) Say no. Be Strong. Stand up for your priorities.
Have someone else answer your phone. Don’t go to every meeting. Get staff to meet you at an appointed time, not when they walk in. Don’t respond to inquiries over the phone. Ask staff to write you a hand written note, or at least an email. If they resist, it may not have been important.
I remember a story of an executive who left his business at 5:00pm every day to attend an important meeting, excusing himself no matter what was occuring. That appointment? – his family.
(3) Maintain perspective
Write Down the top five things that matter to you in your whole life. Write them down. Stick them on the wall. Judge your priorities every day against those things.
(4) Walk away from Opportunities.
Be picky on what opportunities you take. Be patient. Consider the impact on the course of events over your strategic goals. Don’t judge on comparatives (which is the best option). Judge on absolutes (should we be doing this business. Is this a priority for me? Am I being compromised in my decision making against priorities?).
(5) Measure Value against your actual Time.
Keep track for a month of your time and then see if it matches your written down priorities. Change things if it doesn’t match.
(6) Do it NOW.
Avoid over planning and over preparation. It creates pointless busyness. Remember, that plans should be only as certain as the assumptions upon which they are based, or the environment upon which they operate.
A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.
George S. Patton