Something’s puzzling me and I can’t quite work it out.
Today, we have more time-saving, convenience creating, effort reducing resources than ever before and yet we seem to be busier, more stressed and time poor.
I just don’t get it. There’s now an app for everything and you can DIY or outsource pretty much anything so in theory, life should be getting easier, right? Wrong!
As as an executive coach visiting clients in various city offices, I notice an insidious, entrenched and common theme. My clients are smart people working for corporate, government and non-profit organizations, all with very different purposes and yet one way or another, they all lament their lack of time. Here are some of the expressions I hear often – maybe you relate to them:
- I don’t have the bandwidth
- I’m in back to back meetings all week so won’t have time…
- My inbox is killing me
- We’re really stretched at the moment
- There isn't time (the common cry of a pressured project team juggling multiple priorities as they stare down the barrel at a ‘go live’ for their system in 3 weeks)
The ‘inbox’ one was interesting. One guy had over 2,000 unread emails in his inbox and his way of surviving the email tsunami was to ignore them until the sender spoke to him directly. “I figure that if it’s important enough, they’ll come around and talk to me or pick up the phone.” Hmmm, sounds good in theory but I wonder how that works if the email is from the CEO.
Yet, he’s also onto something here – he's Filtering. By prioritizing his emails based on a set of criteria (in his case the personal contact effort made by the sender), he’s filtering in what he believes is important and ignoring the rest.
With millions of bytes of information coming at us every second, we’d soon drown in overload if we didn’t filter it. Our natural reaction is to distort, delete or generalise as a mechanism to keep control of our lives. Yet, if that was an effective technique, why are we all still so busy?
If this is how it is for you, it's time to spring clean your filters.
Like every other useful resource we can call on, our information filters need routine maintenance. Over time they become clogged with the exhaust fumes of life. Rather than consciously and regularly sifting out the obsolete and unnecessary crud whilst keeping the important, they become blocked.
Understand what’s driving your ‘busy’.
Our actions are driven by an underlying cause that often isn’t connected to the activity or its outcome. This can include ‘a need to be needed’, a determination to be seen to be 'on top of it all' ( superwoman/man syndrome – a common one for perfectionists and high achievers), or procrastination because we’re not sure what to do or how to do it. This can lead to aimless ‘fluffing’ and before you know it, you’ve blown hours or days and achieved little more than frustration.
Recognising the real cause of your lack of time helps you take steps to reclaim it. Think about it – if we valued time as much as we value money, wouldn’t we have more rather than less? Imagine how different it would be if you had plenty of time in the bank and were time rich rather than time poor.
Decide what's important
The best way to get the ‘busy’ under control is to check in on what’s most important and ensure you’re focus is largely on your main priorities. Do you really need to attend that meeting that you know will go round in circles or is it just that you don’t want to
miss out on being 'in the know'?
Know what matters most
Check that your priorities will make a real difference. One of the best ways to identify this is to ask, “Of all the things I’ve got on my plate, which will make the most difference a hundred years from now?” Chances are not many, but it’s a sobering thought. If it doesn't really matter – don't do it! Choosing not to do something is surprisingly liberating.
Identify the best return on your time investment.
If there were no limits, what would you choose to be doing right now? Yes, you do have a choice as to how you spend your time, far more often than you realize. Which task is going to pay back far more than the time you'll invest in it? This is a great way of stripping out the time wasters from your day.
Clogged filters are making us busy. That’s my theory but I’m sure it’s not the whole story. With so much more at our fingertips to ‘save time’, why do you think we’re still soooo busy?