Productivity has a cousin you don’t want to spend too much time with. At a glance productivity and busyness seem to be close relatives, but don’t settle for the counterfeit. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely believe in having a strong work ethic. But when you don’t understand the difference between being busy and being productive, your life and leadership are heading for peril.
Some years ago I was having dinner with my parents. We were talking about the projects I had on at work. I was stressed and over-tired, but I brushed it off by saying, “It’s just a busy season at the moment”. Their response floored me. Without a hint of ill-will they said, “Oh Paul, you always say it’s just a busy season”. They were right. The truth was that I had allowed busyness to become a badge of honour.
Perhaps it’s a “Sydney thing” but if you ask people, “How are you?” it’s incredible how often their immediate reply is, “I’ve been busy”. Busyness is a drug. Slowly but surely you find that what used to seem “busy” is the new “normal”. You need to be busy to feel alive. Even on holidays you’re busy. If you’re not busy, you start to feel guilty. But most insidious of all is that if you maintain that addiction long enough, eventually it becomes part of your identity. In fact you tell yourself that the more activity you’re involved in, the more important you must be.
But being “busy” can block some of the best things in life:
Ever since Stephen Covey developed the four quadrants model in “7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” we’ve been urged to recognise that “urgent” and “important” are not the same thing. Very often it’s the truly important things that are squeezed out of my schedule when busyness starts running the show.
Ironically while we run around frantically trying to make it all happen, we’re often blind to the best opportunities that are right under our nose. There’s little time for reflection, objectivity, creative thinking or experimentation – the incubators of great ideas. And other people don’t want to bother you with great opportunities because they can see you’re already running at maximum capacity.
When we become addicted to activity it gets very difficult to stop and celebrate our successes. Life becomes a destination we have to get to (fast!)… rather than a journey we can experience and enjoy.
The reality is that leaders cannot operate at their full potential without some margin in their life. I need some wiggle room in my schedule, my priorities and my head-space. Without that room to breathe I feel more and more trapped in my to do list, less and less free to seize the day when life opens a door for a moment.
In the long run perhaps nothing is damaged by this cycle more than our relationships. Whether it’s our team, clients or family, those who do life with an “activity addict” often long for a deeper relationship with them. Or for conversations that aren’t about work. To know the real “them”… underneath all those pressing priorities.
So as leaders, let’s take responsibility for asking ourselves the hard questions in this area. I know it’s a challenge but I’d rather make a conscious decision to shift the way I work and lead, than to wake up one day wondering if the price of being eternally busy was worth it in the end.
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