3 Ideas to be less busy and more focused at work

When I ask friends and colleagues, “How are you doing?” the standard response has become “Busy and hectic”, or a variation of that. I too have said that. It seems that we are being pulled in a hundred and one directions, with everything becoming important and urgent. Busy-ness have become the new social status symbol – the busier you are, the better!

I think that this excuse for busy-ness is really a symptom of a few things:

  1. The general idea that we can and should do everything, and in fact, don’t ever say “No”. I too have fallen into this trap. I was on committees, I was a “can-do” person, I was trying to do everything and please everyone. Working a full day, and at home, doing another full evening of preparing dinner, giving attention to my family, catching up on the emails and personal admin, and bedtime routine with my daughter. No wonder I was completely exhausted!
  2. The concept of having many priorities. Let’s take a moment and understand the definition of the word. Priority has it’s origen from the Latin word “prior”, which in essence means preceding in importance or priviledge (from www.dictionary.com). It’s the one thing above all other things. At the core it states that you can only have one thing above everything else. One thing. However, we have really bastardised the word and created “priorities”, and in doing that, have craeted a monster for ourselves. You can’t have more than one, single priority. You can’t have priorities. You can only ever have one priority. One, that’s it.
  3. Fooling yourself by thinking you can multi-task. The idea of multi-tasking is probably the greatest contributor to busy-ness, and the biggest falacy of productivity. It has been confirmed by neuro-scientists that the only thing you are doing when you are multi-tasking, is in fact, swithing between single tasks. Your brain really can only focus on one thing at a time. Every time you switch between tasks, you lose focus and concentration. So while you may think you are very busy, which in fact you are, because you are overloading your brain with continuously switching between tasks, you are just completely unproductive.
  4. Having a to-do list, with anything and everything on the list. The idea of a to-do list is well intended. It is supposed to help you determine the highest priority task (note the word priority here) and rank your to-do items from most important or critical to the least. Then you are supposed to start with your number one item on the list (the most important or the most critical) and then work your way down. Sometimes it works, and sometimes life gets in the way.

So what can you do differently? How can you get control back of your life, your productivity and your happiness? Here’s my top suggestions:

  1. Saying “No”. Evaluate the request: why do you want to to do it? What will it bring to you if you do it? What will it mean for you if you don’t do it? Remember, that for every thing that you say yes to, you really are saying no to something else. You really only have 24 hours in a day. Those seconds, minutes and hours are precious. Spend it wisely.
  2. Focus on what matters most right now. This is taking the concept of having a priority and changing it into an action: focus on what matters most right now. Sometimes you can decide what you need to focus on, and sometimes life or other people will influence what you need to focus on. When you take this concept to heart, you will automatically focus your attention and energy on the most important or critical action at a specific point of time. When you focus on what matters most right now, the temptation of multi-tasking is less or even eliminated. And if there are items on your to-do list that never gets done, it only means that perhaps it should be on your list in the first place.
  3. Triage your opportunities. When you look at your opportunities and the things we want to create and do, we can be overwhelmed by the daily pull of things that other people want us to do, our own fears and even the attraction of staying in your comfort zone. In a recent post, Seth Godin proposed the idea of “opportunity triage”. How do you sort out the opportunities? He wrote that in emergency rooms, patients are categorised into three groups: those who are doing to die no matter what, those who will be okay if they receive help eventually, and those who need help right this moment. By prioritising where to focus, they can serve the patients who can benefit the most. Again, here’s the concept of “prioritising” and focus. So have a look at your action list and daily tasks: which things will never get done? Which things will eventually get done? Which things do you absolutely have to focus on right now?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, busy and frazzled with everything you have to do, you have a choice: continue what you are doing, or stop doing what you are doing. Learn to say no. Stop multi-tasking and focus on what matters most right now. Triage your actions and opportunites.

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