That Round and Round, Busy-But-Getting-Nowhere Kind of Work

Posted on February 13, 2020

It's already February (Happy Valentines Day by the way) and I'm writing on this topic. It doesn't seem to matter what time of year it is for those who are involved in a leadership capacity in busy work environments but too many tasks with a finite amount of time can take the joy out of work and make us feel weary at days end. Many struggle with overloaded schedules and the corresponding coordination of tasks: to get done what needs to be done in a timely manner. Our automatic response is often reacting to the next thing on our plate and before we know it, the week has passed and we feel like we have achieved nothing apart from having exhausted ourselves. I would like to propose a counter-intuitive solution: The busier you are, allocate more frequent, smaller amounts of time, for thinking, task prioritisation and scheduling. Yes, it's counter-intuitive but do it we must if we are to avoid the running on the circular, busy-but-getting-nowhere path that many of us unwittingly run on. Thinking, prioritisation and scheduling helps us to:
  • create an inner equilibrium where we are clearer about what should take priority, what should be secondary and so forth;
  • gain a sense of progress as we move through our tasks in a more orderly fashion;
  • move to more of a methodical planned approach to our days rather than living in constant response and reactivity;
  • strangely...achieve more of what's important.
Actions you can take to get off that circular, busy-but-getting-nowhere path are:
  • Have your day planned before you start it;
  • If you lead a team of people, always be asking, "who else could do this?"
  • Take frequent 1-2 minute planning breaks to look ahead at the next few hours;
  • Batch similar tasks into blocks of time so that you maintain clarity of mind and focus;
  • Ensure that all activities are aligned with your goals and required metrics. Don't do something just because...;
  • Seek to ensure that you are regularly on top of email, phone calls etc. There is nothing like a hundred undealt emails in your inbox when you leave work to make you feel swamped and it is this sense of overwhelm that slows our pace.
  • Ease up. Instead of leaning forward and attempting to run at 110%, try easing back to 95%. The 5% energy/pace margin—again counter-intuitive—helps us work more effectively.
  • If you, like me, get to the end of a day or a week and wonder what you've actually done, start keeping a what I did well today list. This only needs to take a couple of minutes and can include the major tasks you've completed, the people you were kind to, the fact you took time for lunch and so forth. This list also provides feedback. Often, we don't receive external reinforcement for a job well done. The what I did well today list sets up an inner feedback loop that can provide great encouragement that we are doing well and moving forward.
I would suggest that if you are on this circular path where you are busy but not getting very far, take one of the action points above and once it becomes more habitual, enact a second and so on.

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