Business vs “Busy-ness”
Everyone is busy.
It always shocks me when I come across someone who seems to think “busy” is a novel way to answer the question, “How have you been?” We’re slowly becoming aware of the drawbacks of being constantly busy, but it’s still often seen as a badge of honor. It makes us feel important, or special, or deserving of praise and sympathy. But the truth is, busy is a choice that the majority of us are constantly making.
Parents are busy, students are busy, people who run clubs or organize societies are busy. I know literally one person who has ever told me that she’s not busy. And it was a very deliberate choice on her part to avoid the constant temptation of activities and invitations.
So, fellow business owners, we are far from alone in our levels of “busy.” But that’s not the main point I want to make today.
As I read more and more self help books, I begin to see common themes. When it comes to maximizing your potential, the biggest pattern I’ve seen is avoiding the busy trap.
Because it can be a trap. There are so many activities constantly begging for your attention. Those invoices need to be sent out, that client project completed, your social media marketing plan created, Instagram photos taken, taxes sorted, and on, and on.
When you look at an overwhelming mountain of tasks, your brain wants to jump in haphazardly. The random task you pick up is unlikely to be the most important or to have the biggest return on investment. Without time to think, you can’t decide what should be the highest priority, and if there isn’t time for X, how you can make time.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on this topic. If you want to really learn and transform your life, read Essentialism or Designing Your Life. But I have been putting those lessons into practice in my own business and I’ll share what I’ve learned so far.
1. To See Progress You Have to Know the End Goal
Sounds obvious right? Not to me. I like to dive in with vague goals like “more clients” or “be more productive.” But these books go beyond “3 new clients every month” into “what are your life values?” They challenge you to find the disconnect between what you care about and what you spend your time on. It’s a powerful exercise that will have you rethinking your life and your business.
2. The 80/20 Rules Applies to EVERYTHING
Have you heard of The Pareto Principle? 20% of efforts produce 80% of results. 20% of clients produce 80% of income. 20% of employees complete 80% of the work. Basically, increasing your efficiency and effectiveness lies in determining which of your actions is producing the most results and spending the bulk of your time there.
3. You Have to Say “No” a Lot More Than You Want To
My first response is usually somewhere between “Hell yeah!” and “I can probably make that work.” Saying no comes hard, either because I don’t want to let people down or because I genuinely want to do all the activities. And so the concept of saying no, even to good opportunities, was a novel one for me. But it’s the only way to lessen your burden so you can really excel at the top 20% or even just 10% of opportunities that come your way.
Another secret: saying no to things doesn’t usually feel good. At least not for me and not for most people-pleasers. But it’s absolutely, 100% necessary.
4. You Have to Spend Time to Save Time
This sounds incredibly counterintuitive but it’s no different than “you have to spend money to make money.” When you have a million pieces of minutia screaming at you it is really difficult to stop and sort those tasks by priority. Even more challenging to set aside an entire day to think about your business goals, development projects, and to lay out a marketing strategy for the next year.
But those things can and will save you a lot of time and brain power down the road. I still struggle to take time out to do this, but what I’ve found is that no one ever seems too put out if I tell them I’ll be unavailable for a couple days. A week, even!
I’m working on setting up monthly and quarterly check-ins to work on business projects, and to assess the effectiveness of my business processes. For most of 2017, I worked and figured I’d get around to it when the work slowed down. What I’ve since realized is that a business, well-managed, will never slow down.
So it’s that much more important to run it as efficiently as possible, focus on the highest ROI activities, and to make time for planning and evaluating. At least it is if you’d rather being doing business instead of busywork.
Do you ever struggle with setting priorities? What are your strategies for cutting down on busywork?