Stop focussing on being busy, instead be effective

Why we must let go of our busy culture

We've glorified the concept of busy in our culture.

If we aren't busy, then by default we must be lazy, and so we spend our time making ourselves out to be "very busy and important" even if in reality, we are inverted ducks with legs madly kicking in the air and not much going on under the surface.

I had the privilege of listening to former independent Member of Parliament for Indi, Cathy McGowan, at the Farmers for Climate Action Leadership Fellowship last week and she made the very important point of not getting bogged down in 'busy work.'

She reminded us about the difference between being 'busy' and being 'productive', emphasising that work that isn't effective needs to be reconsidered.

It can feel exhausting when you're on the busy train. But if your "busy" is also ineffective, it's not just exhausting, it's physically, mentally and emotionally draining.

So how do we turn this train around? How do we walk back our busy programming and rewrite our code to focus on productivity and effectiveness?

If you are like me and are wearing many hats, you will know that productivity over busy is vital, but at the same time, particularly challenging.

I work full time, am a parent, I study part time, I write a weekly op-ed, and I'm involved in my community through various project work.

As a sole trader, I'm not just working with clients every day, I'm also working on my business.

It is very easy to find myself flitting between tasks and projects, assignments, client jobs, ideas - oh so many new ideas... and that's not even including the demands of being a parent to a newly minted teen and a six-year-old who apparently have to eat.

Every. Single. Day. And boy do they eat.

I just gave myself a headache thinking about it all.

There is no glory in this.

There is no award for the person who gets the least sleep or who finds themselves on blood pressure medication due to self-induced stress (like me).

Busy without productivity is just ineffective stress. And stress will literally kill you.

So how do we move from busy to effective?


At the FCA Leadership Fellowship, Ms McGowan talked a lot about being your best self and this really struck a chord with me.

When you strip away all the "busy", what's left? What is one thing that you can do really well? What can you contribute?

I think the key is really ensuring that you know your priorities - and don't overload yourself with too many of them.

There is a principle called the Pareto Principle that states that 80 per cent of your desired results come from 20 per cent of your activity.

It's not just about what you are doing but how you are doing.

I was recently reminded of Henry Ford who is known for building Ford cars.

However, he didn't make his fortune from building cars - he built his fortune from building a better system for car manufacturing.

Busy people tend to focus on the car, productive people focus on the process.

I've also found that I tend to say "Yes" quickly to things when I'm asked to do something for someone else.

Busy people tend to do this too and then find themselves in a mess of multitasking, whereas productive people say "yes" more slowly and focus on the things that they do say "yes" to.

They work out how they are going to fit it in and whether they actually can.

As a self-confessed ideas-woman, one of the greatest struggles of my life is accepting that I cannot do it all.

I have ideas, and then ideas about the ideas, and I want to achieve everything.

However, the reality is that we just don't have time for everything we want to do when we're busy chasing squirrels.

To be productive, we need to recognise what is really important to us and learn to let go of the things down the bottom of the list.

Then we can really focus on what we are good at, at what's important, and achieve what matters most.

Unless of course someone invents a cloning machine that spits out fully grown human clones. Hey, Elon Musk - any thoughts?

This story Why we must let go of our busy culture first appeared on The Canberra Times.