With summer almost over and the post-holiday pressure starting to pile up, it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming a busy fool.
The pressure to run faster can come from many different sources. It might be clients who want everything yesterday or a boss who always want us to deliver more in less time. But for many of us, biggest source of pressure is us - the pressure that we put on ourselves.
Busy-ness is like a disease. It gets worse over time. It's easy to work more hours than ever before whilst not being as productive as we should be. But working longer and harder is where the disease starts. If we want to avoid becoming busy fools and stay healthy, we need to focus on the right priorities and work smarter.
Stephen Covey talked about the “activity trap” whereby we busily climb the ladder of activity without realising it is against the wrong wall. It’s easy to be too focused on the doing and the implementation and not enough on the outcomes and the end results.
That’s why rushing has become the new normal. Clients make out that a rushed deadline is the most important goal. Yet once the work is delivered, the deadline is often forgotten and the actual result becomes the critical issue. When we rush there is a strong likelihood we won't produce our best work and we are more likely to make mistakes.
What is the impact on our business? The danger is we become purely focused on the short term rather than the bigger picture and longer term goals. Yet it is vital to strike the right balance between the short and long term goals.
Many people have a “to-do list” which they diligently work through from top to bottom. Forget it. Instead, identify your real priorities. Chose three things and focus on them first. Then tackle the next three priorities. And develop a “to-think list” identifying areas in which you need to spend time thinking.
Here are 10 other tips to help you be more effective and achieve more each day.
1. Firstly recognise that everything that happens to you in business is your responsibility. The buck stops with you! Set aside time to plan and really think about your business and where you want be in 2-3 years time.
2. "Plans are nothing, planning is everything" Eisenhower said. It is the act of thinking and planning which is more important than the actual plan. Build time into your diary every week to spend at least a couple of hours to think and plan - that's only around 5% of your work-week. The busier you are the more the need to plan. Making plans is relatively easy: the hard part is the execution of the plan.
3. Get better at what you do. In fact, be the very best at what you do. Be outstanding at a few things, not average or mediocre at many things. Find your niche and specialise.
4. Get away from your desk to think creatively and innovatively. Typically our best ideas and thinking come spontaneously when we least expect them. Identify when you get your best ideas.
5. Push back on ridiculous deadlines unless it is a crisis or if there is a real need to move fast. Will you always get more time? Of course not but you will much of the time. Beware of automatically saying 'yes' without thinking.
6. Solving problems by yourself can be tough and sometimes overwhelming. Find a buddy to chat through problems. Explaining and articulating your challenge to them forces you to clarify your thinking by putting the challenge into words.
7. Don't procrastinate. Do it, delegate it or dump it. Be decisive. Don't sit there wondering where to start. Get started. Don't just do what you find easy and in your comfort zone. Do what's effective. Do what's needed.
8. Systematise. Find ways and processes to streamline those repeated tasks. Beware of re-inventing the wheel each time. This can reduce the time taken and improve the quality of the output.
9. Take time to anticipate what is likely to happen and be said at important meetings. You can then prepare your options and response in advance without the pressure 'in the moment'.
10. Finally, for one week keep a detailed diary to see where you are really spending your time. Is that the best use of your time? How could you reduce your time working and be more effective during that time?