It’s old news that we’re busy and that we wear our busyness as a badge of honor. But a new study found that Americans, in particular, are actually buying it. Specifically, the study concluded that Americans who always say they’re “busy” are actually seen as more important. Unfortunately, it’s all a charade.
Busy, busy, busy
Numerous studies have shown that busyness isn’t actually good business, and here’s the big reason why: It makes us less productive. We’re all susceptible to it, but If I’m saying to myself (and I have), “Woo, I’m busy; really busy,” I’m likely being distracted from the most important, most productive work that I could be doing. I may feel like I’m doing more, but the net result is actually less. And it often feels like it.
But not everyone wears busyness as a status symbol. In response to the research and their own well-informed gut feelings, many are finding enjoyment in more productive work at a less busy pace. I wanted to know how these people recognize when they’re devolving into busyness and what they do to stop the downward spiral, so I asked 12 thought leaders who’ve inspired me two simple questions:
- How do you know when you’ve gotten too busy?
- What is a technique that you use to “unbusy” yourself?
Here’s what they had to say:
In a recent Forbes post, I offered five reasons for why analog task management can be more productive than a digital alternative. But in addition to the WHY, I pledged to offer specifics on exactly WHAT and HOW I’ve applied the Bullet Journal system in my own pursuit of productivity.
For fans of my online productivity system hack using Trello, please know that it still works just fine! You will see the familiar blend of Steven Covey as well as David Allen’s GTD principles in my analog system, with just a few modifications and some new Bullet-friendly verbiage.
Before you jump in, I do recommend that you watch a short video in which Bullet Journal founder Ryder Carroll explains the system in his own words. Then, here is precisely how I’ve adapted the concept for my own purposes as a financial advisor, writer, speaker and productivity seeker:
As technological innovation marches forward in so many aspects of life, there is a movement gaining momentum to return to the past in search of something important that progress may have left behind.
No, you can’t beat the convenience of streaming and digitized music, but the listening experience still falls short of dropping the needle on a vinyl record. Similarly, while the ubiquity of tech-driven tools may make the process of managing our time easier than ever, we may actually end up increasing our productivity by decreasing efficiency through an analog, manual, pen-and-paper system.
Personally, I’d been successfully employing a time-management system for years—a simplified, customized amalgamation of David Allen and Steven Covey’s wisdom—designed using the online tool Trello. As someone who believes our most valuable investment is time, however, I was still curious when a friend I respect told me about a new system that he’d been using effectively. But when I invited him to show me, he didn’t pull out his phone or tablet, but a simple journal—a Bullet Journal.
The Bullet Journal is a product, but it’s also more than that. It’s really a modifiable productivity method that has grown into a community. The system, interestingly, was created by a digital product designer, Ryder Carroll, as a way to bring the discipline of task management under the practice of mindfulness. After testing out the system for a few months—and becoming an adherent in the process—I discussed the inspiration for the Bullet Journal with Mr. Carroll.
While how, exactly, I’ve adapted the Bullet system in my work as a financial advisor, writer and speaker—including the specific journal and writing tools I use—does make for an interesting story, today I’d like to address the bigger question:
I travel a decent amount. I don’t mind flying, but I’ve always struggled with the loss of productivity. Hours waiting at the airport. Even more hours in flight. But with the advent of in-flight Wi-Fi, I thought my productivity problems were solved. I was wrong.
I’ve instead concluded that by nixing slow and unpredictable in-flight Wi-Fi altogether, we can save money and use flight time to more productive ends (like reading, writing and resting) better suited for that environment.
My initial plan was to use in-flight Wi-Fi to slay the email dragon. That way, I could land knowing that nothing had slipped through the cracks and that there were no surprises waiting. I might even allow non-urgent emails to pile up for a couple days if I knew I had an upcoming flight. Unfortunately, the strategy was a miserable failure.
by Jim Stovall
Every few days, I am asked to serve on a board or committee somewhere in the world. I immediately reject virtually all of these requests, not because the opportunities or causes are not valid, but because many boards and committees tend to be inefficient, ineffective, and unproductive.
The lack of productivity does not come from the members of the boards or committees not being talented, committed, or dedicated. The lack of productivity comes from the fact that boards and committees, by their very nature, exist to have regular meetings.
If we are to succeed in business or in life, we should never confuse activity with productivity. Productivity is the constant progress toward a worthwhile goal, utilizing a well-thought-out plan. Activity is quite simply any task that takes up time and creates work. A hamster running around the wheel in his cage demonstrates great activity but no productivity.
I would be the first to admit there are times that a face-to-face meeting or the process of getting together a group of stakeholders is vital to success; but having the Monday morning meeting, the monthly committee session, or quarterly advisory board review are most often a recipe for wholesale ongoing activity with little chance of any meaningful productivity.
Never hold a meeting if a call will suffice, and never have a call if an email will meet your needs, and never send an email when doing nothing is likely to garner the same results. This activity hierarchy should be used any time someone tries to corral a large portion of your productive time and turn it into a regularly-scheduled meeting which is virtually guaranteed to make you feel like the hamster running feverishly on the little wheel.
Following are some ways to stay as far toward productivity and away from activity as possible:
- Reject all invitations to join a board or committee unless there is a specific, well-defined reason that you need to participate that will result in progress toward a meaningful goal which cannot be achieved any other way.
- Avoid meetings by asking if you can participate via conference call or, better yet, send in your thoughts and input via email.
- Unless otherwise compelled to do so by your employer, do not post your appointment calendar online where anyone can get to it. Those huge blocks of unencumbered time where you were looking forward to being creative and productive can be gobbled up and commandeered by anyone in a meeting or committee frenzy.
As you go through your day today, define for yourself what is important, and avoid exchanging productivity for activity.
Today’s the day!