Busy, so busy – it’s a phrase that has snuck into our vernacular and seems nowadays the stock standard response to the question ‘How are you doing?’. Over the last 10 years, our connectedness, our desire to be ‘always-on’, to do more and be more productive has led to feelings of less control over our personal and professional lives, consumed by a cycle of busyness.
I recently read a great book by Tony Crabbe, Busy, How to thrive in a world of too much, which as its title suggests, talks to this exact point. Importantly, Crabbe offers tips on how to regain control in a world which constantly demands more of you.
In the book Crabbe cites the issue of social norms, and how this can indirectly affect our response as human beings even if we know this isn’t necessarily the right answer. A classic study in the conformity of individuals can be seen in the 1950s experiment by Solomon Asch. It demonstrates even with a clear correct answer, the influence of one individual unwittingly giving the wrong answer, is enough to alter people’s opinions in order to comply with the group, despite clear and visible evidence. The point here is that often we as individuals can take on the answers of our friends, peers and colleagues as social norms. And in a world where everyone we come into contact with is consumed with being busy, it can be all too easy to take on this social norm and become even more ‘busy’.
While I’m still working on personally mastering [who am I kidding?] living these values, I wanted to share some of the great tips I garnered from the book. Here goes…
Learn to switch off
Our brains are not built to be busy all the time. A small but interesting study from the University of London suggests being busy can reduce IQ as much as smoking cannabis or losing a night’s sleep. While it’s a small study, it does suggest you need to give your brain an intentional break. Schedule specific time to relax and try to avoid checking email and social media just before bed or first thing in the morning.
Kill a meeting
Meetings are a source of busyness. Just because Outlook schedules a meeting for a neat 30 or 60 minutes, doesn’t mean we have to conform. No I say – rebel and put in quick 15 minute huddles or better yet talk to teams to keep communication flowing. Do yourself and your colleagues a favour and look for opportunities to kill a meeting.
Think about the time it takes and double it
When it comes to us judging ourselves, we have the tendency to overestimate our capabilities and how much we can do, yet when it comes to judging the time it will take for others, we tend to hit the nail on the head. This is called the Planning Fallacy. So next time you are asked to do something think twice about the time it may take – or better yet ask a colleague for their time estimate, given they seem to be more in the know.
The Zeigarnik effect can be used to get started quicker (and procrastinate less), by opening a mental ‘file’ early. The items (or frogs) that we usually avoid are large, challenging tasks, but there is a way to help overcome this challenge through opening the file a few days prior to needing to begin the task. By working on it for about 20 minutes and leaving your subconscious to do the rest over the next day or so, can help fill in the blanks so that when you return to the task, the thoughts and ideas will flow.
I challenge all of you to look for ways to remove the ‘B’ word from your vocab to see the impact it has on your own sense of busyness and the knock-on effect it has on the individuals you surround yourself with. You never know, you might even find yourself with so much spare time you’ll have the time to read the book!