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Shut up about how busy you are

We are all busy nowadays. We’re all struggling to keep our heads above water, but there’s no need to bang on about it. To continue the nautical metaphor, we’re all in the same boat, but some people seem to think they’re in a special one. Ask: “How are you?” and you are likely to be bombarded by one-upmanship in the time-pressurision stakes.

Someone told me about a potential client who apologised for a lack of communication, due to a “week-long fire drill”. What does that even mean? Fake, not real fires all week? Offices in flames? Need us to call the fire services? Or maybe a consellor of some sort?

A colleague’s first date told  her he was; “crashing on deadlines”, and asked her to, “just make a reservation somewhere” for him. That didn’t work out.

A lot of this is people just out-doing each other. If I am busier than you, I am more important, my time is more valuable and I am winning some fantasy rat-race towards Inbox Zero or something. “I am more in-demand and, therefore, more important than you.”

What does this jousting achieve? Absolutely nothing; it just harms how we communicate, how we connect with each other and interact. Everyone is busy, in different ways. You may be overloaded with clients, or setting up a new business, or looking after a baby. With limited time and unlimited pressures on that time, it is all too easy to fill your plate with constant activity; but it certainly doesn’t mean you should.

To think that being busy (which really means nothing), makes you cool, or that it is something worth bragging about, is a nonsense. Inflating our self-worth with claims of drowning under deadlines and others’ unrealistic expectations, only serves to cut us off, to disassociate us from family and friends as well as personal time. Spending an entire conversation banging on about how busy you are, means you will fail to share feelings with people who care, enquire about really important matters and fail to see that “busy” is always something that can be put off for a while.

I don’t want to belittle anyone’s work-load, but by using it as a judgemental mechanism, we are losing proper connections in a very substantial way.The problem becomes worse, a self-fulfilling prophesy of busyness. By competing in it, we add to the waterpool everyone seems to be treading in. It also affects our mental and physical health.

Yet we still use long hours as a macho badge of honour. In fact the trick is to work smart, not hard.

If someone spends 15 hours at their office desk, probably losing all sense of motivation and focus, it does not mean  they have accomplished anything in a smart way. A worker typically has 90-120 minutes before turning into internet/Facebook fodder. 15 hours at one desk, without meaningful breaks, is just an inefficient waste of time.

The trick to working smart is to be diligent, but to avoid spending time on things you do not necessarily have to do, and instead concentrate only on what is absolutely necessary; it is all about being strategic.

Occasionaly, it might be refreshing to hear someone brag about their excellent time management skills rather than bitch about the Sysyphean strains they are put under.

Here are three tactics that can be used to help you work smarter:

  1. Constrain, or limit your time.

The more you do this, the more focused and productive you should feel. If you can only spend 45 minutes on a project, then leave it at that. You will soon learn to work more efficiently.

2.   Use a scheduler.

Should you really find yourself swamped, it is easy to find a scheduler, virtual or otherwise. Zirtual and Doodle are both good examples. If you prefer pen and paper, there is nothing wrong with a decent A4 diary or lined notebook.

3.   Cut the fat.

Consider cutting out superfluous meetings, that are not going to be fun, productive, business producing; this will empty that plate a bit.

I guess we all have some weird need to out-misery others, and, acknowledging that, may be a positive first step, but next time you are chatting with a friend and find yourself doing this; ask yourself why. Try to steer the conversation away from a complaints’ shoot-out.

After a while practising this, you may actually feel a bit less under deluge, or less inclined to bang on about it.

Anyway, good luck, I’ve got to dash, stuff to do.

Nigel Phillips



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