Why Lieutenant Columbo won’t help you solve the crime of being too busy
Now I love Columbo as much as the next man. I ain’t criticising his skills of detection as he clearly knows how to catch the bad guys.
Busyness is seductive
The pull to be busy is strong. Its appealing. And, it can be deadly.
It feels good to get stuff done. And, you have certain standards, right? You care about people. You want to make a difference. You want to raise the bar of expectations so that people get a better deal.
And, of course, there are the pressures of a lot of people who need your help. Not to mention all the paperwork that steals your time. So, how do you resist the magnetic power of being busy?
Maybe, I should say a bit more about why being busy is bad for you. The truth is, I don’t think it always is. You can be productive when you’re busy. But not always. Being busy and being productive are not the same thing.
The difference between busyness and productivity
Let’s start with productivity. There are several clues that tell me when I’ve been productive. The most obvious is I get stuff done. And, I get it done quickly.
More than that, the experience of being productive is different to just being busy. I’m less frustrated and less stressed. I feel pleased that I’m getting somewhere. And, I feel energised to keep going.
When I’m not productive, but just busy, it’s the opposite. I over-work. I put off important elements of my self-care like exercise and eating nutritious food. I’m more likely to have a beer or a glass of wine in the week when I get home.
Being busy is like chasing your tail. You’re more frantic. You’re too absorbed in your work. Your performance suffers. You lose patience for other people. You’re more irritable and likely to fly-off the handle. When you’re busy without a focus, you and everyone around you starts to suffer. So, what needs to change?
The One-Track Mind Approach to getting stuff done and feeling happy about it
If you have a one-track mind, then it means you are “consistently fixated on or preoccupied by a particular topic”. Its what you call an idiom. And to be productive, not just busy, it helps to have a one-track mind.
Contrast this idea with Columbo who was renowned for saying “and one more thing”, you can’t let yourself be distracted by all the thoughts, feelings and external demands that show up on a daily basis.
Actually, to be fair to Columbo, his infamous retort was pretty consistent with his single purpose; to investigate and discover the truth about what happened. Which suggests that Columbo is probably more helpful in this situation than I’ve initially claimed. Hooray!
Clarifying your single purpose
What we are talking about here is context. And context is where I want to invite you to start. Let’s begin with clarifying your single most important purpose.
Step 1: Identify your single most important purpose
Get clear about what you care about. Get clearer about why you do what you do. Is it to be ambitious? Is it to be caring or to contribute? Try to find a verb that describes what direction is most important in your work.
Step 2: Organise your time effectively
Like everyone else, you have a lot of different responsibilities. Large amounts of your time will be filled up with what you have to do. But, there will be time left over for what you want to do.
Every day, you have pressures to complete lots of tasks. You won’t be able to do all of them. Let’s say that again. You won’t be able to do all of them!
Instead, start your working day with writing down your single most important purpose. Then write down what you hope or intend to get done that day. Make sure it is in line with your purpose. Slots these tasks into time-slots. If there aren’t any time-slots available, then you won’t have time to do it today.
Step 3: Focus on one thing and one thing only
Multi-tasking isn’t efficient. Yes, you might have to move between tasks. But, you’ll be more efficient and effective if you start and complete one thing at a time. Try to be firm and try to be consistent.
Step 4: Factor in down-time
You need to rest. Every superhero needs to sleep. You can’t always be on standby or constantly on the go.
Factor in some down time every day and you’ll be able to keep going for longer. Avoid it and you’ll burnout sooner.
You do an important job. Society has a lot to thank you for. You make a real and significant difference to so many people. They might not always thank you. But I want to. I want to say thank you for the contributions you’ve made over the years. You’re making the world a better place for me and everyone else to live.
Your hard work is appreciated. And I want you to be less busy.
I want your life to be better and I want you to be around for a long time to come. Focus on your single most important purpose. Develop a one-track mind and resist the urge to heed to the pressure of one-more thing.
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