The sticky story of busy

We are often told that busyness is required in the work we do. Busy people are the people who work hard and get stuff done. Lots of us believe this story. We say with martyr-like pride, ‘I haven’t had a weekend in f.o.r.e.v.e.r.’

Just because it sticks doesn’t make it true. We want focused not busy; busy is not focused on anything. Busy is irresponsible.

First things first, second things never

The things that matter most must never be at the mercy of the things that matter least.
Goethe

Focus divides work into two main areas: what matters most and everything else. What matters most gets in the diary, everything else does not. Now all this talk may make you feel a little nauseous. The idea of not emptying your inbox gives you a lip twitch. But most of those urgent calls, emails, those ‘do you have a moment, moments’, are distractions. The task bouncing from one colleague to the next is not your ball. Drop it. Drop that ball.

Put the most important time in your diary first: the hours with loved ones, friends, hobbies and self. The quantity of time spent in these areas really matter and should not be compromised; it is the quality of time in your work life that should be your focus. You do not need more than thirty seven hours in full time work, to do an excellent job.

Consequences

Where we end up, largely depends on what we do regularly. Thinking about the consequences can help you to decide what to prioritise. For every new opportunity think about what are the potential consequences of doing/not doing this. If there are large potential positive consequences it goes in the diary; everything else stays out.

Energy

Follow the energy. When work gives us energy, we are healthier, happier people. When work saps our energy we are miserable and tired. Our bodies tell us how much energy we have. Listen to your body. When the body shuts down the brain does not work.

Take a look at your diary; who/what is sucking the life out of it? What are the consequences of not doing that? If very little, boot them out immediately. Tasks/people you must engage with can be moved to a time when your energy is at its best. For example: move the funding application after a 1-to-1 that makes you feel unstoppable.

This is not only about removing tasks/people, it is about putting more energy boosting stuff in. Who are the people/tasks that give you energy and great returns? Prioritise them and build your diary around them.

Pareto principle

The Pareto principle is named after the economist Vilfredo Pareto.

Here he is:

Image of Vilfredo Pareto. It is a black and white image. He has a fantastic beard and bushy eye brows.
Vilfredo Pareto, engineer and economist. Photo: Masadiary

Not only did Vilfredo have an amazing beard, he was also effective at making equations. The Pareto principle equation, demonstrates the unequal relationship between effort and outcomes. Pareto tells us that 20 percent of all activities result in 80 percent of all outcomes. So, if you have a list of 10 things to do, 2 of the tasks are worth as much, or more than the other 8 put together. Identify those 20 percent tasks. This means prioritising planning before jumping in. Do not commit to any work when the top 20 percent of tasks are unfinished.

Task

Take control of your life

Get out your diary and answer the following questions:

  1. Why have I been selected for this work and what is expected of me?
  2. Who/what has been in your diary the most over the past three months? Does that feel right to you?
  3. What are my highest value/consequence driven activities?
  4. What can only I do that will make a real difference to the team/work?

Go through and prioritise high energy, big consequence tasks for the next 6 weeks. Make a plan on how this work will be accomplished in order of priority. When are you going to do this task and how long will it take? If it is not in the diary, it is not going to happen. Finally, tick off achievements throughout the day; you are getting what matters most done.