How to battle busy with one simple best-practice
Updated: Nov 8, 2021
How I F-ed Up Last Week
Last week’s travesty is the same as this week’s travesty: Overcommitment. No amount of caffeine can save me.
A few years ago, I had a major epiphany that has slowly but powerfully been changing the way I work. I learned to say no to busy and yes to a very purposefully selected amount of work - an amount I could do well and in a timely fashion. It’s made me a happier and thus a better person - less stressed, proud of my work, and more patient with the world around me.
Last week, as I got pissy about guests inviting extra attendees to my partner Jim’s birthday winery tour, it hit me. I have relapsed. I am overcommitted and becoming THAT person. The one who can’t roll with the punches. The one who thinks more friends is a problem (technically during these COVID times, more than 10 friends in a public space is a problem...but you get what I mean).
I was in the last week of running GoGoSprint, an intense productivity mastermind, I was racing to develop and launch a premium community, and I was preparing for a six-hour workshop I agreed to run 18 months ago to benefit a company that laid me off six months ago. All this on top of the regular running of GoGoDone (thank goodness for my amazing Hosts).
AND...I had to plan Jim’s birthday and reset our backyard HIIT obstacle course for the new month. As you might guess, no toilets were scrubbed and no groceries were purchased last week. That is why I had an expired granola bar, the last few pickles in the jar, and a scoop of almond butter for breakfast (not all at once of course).
This was an official relapse into workaholism - I had committed to too many projects and overwhelmed my to-do list.
I was chugging busy straight from the bottle.
My Busy Addiction: Lovely Lies and the Hard Truth
Here are the lies Busy tells me.
If you’re busy you’re important.
If you’re busy you’re getting a lot done.
If you’re busy it’s okay to not return phone calls and emails.
If you’re busy, that’s the reason your work is mediocre and behind schedule.
Or the worst tucked deep down inside that fragile ego of mine - if you’re busy it’s because you have to help others because you’re the only one who can do it right.
For me, the journey from the lies to the truth was about forcing myself into honest, painful self-reflection. Once I stopped and looked with my emotions and ego held to the side for a minute, the facts were easy to see. Time and time again, I could imagine “Doing It All” and time and time again, the reality was that I half-assed it or just completely failed.
It was time for me to rewrite the lies into truths.
Everyone will have their own but here are the truths behind busy for me:
I choose busy when I feel “not good enough.”
I choose busy when I’m insecure about the quality I can produce.
I choose busy when I want to people-please rather than be honest and admit limitations or that the other person/project just isn’t a priority for me.
I choose busy because I want to believe so badly that I can do it all - even though no human can.
I choose busy because the self-pity of martyrdom does indeed give me an ego boost.
Busy is a choice but it’s a sneaky one. Most of us don’t stop and reflect on it. We’re all constantly exposed to it and everyone around us is extolling their busy virtues. Although I was ready to let go of being busy, the whole world around me was NOT. I was worried about how others would perceive me - at work and at home.
Some folks may not get to opt out of busy. For example, a single parent with multiple low-wage jobs and no local, supportive family is limited on options. If, however, you are privileged enough to not be in such a situation, you have choices. Yes, if you pay for a contractor to do your social media, you might not be able to afford that vacation. But you do have choices. They just might be hard ones.
For me, something that makes me a better, happier person EVERY DAY is worth more than a nicer car, travel adventure (dang that one was hard to write), or one more gold star that really no one but me cares about.
One Best Practice to Put Busy in its Place
My busy came initially from saying “yes” to too many commitments. Once I was into those commitments, I fell into the other busy trap: our poor ability to estimate how long tasks will take.
I tackle this head-on in our GoGoSprints during our goal-setting exercise. Participants bring a project of their choice to the sprint. The first task is to build a plan using a very basic worksheet that has them:
List all the tasks and rank by importance and urgency
Estimate how long each task will take
Break down any tasks with estimates longer than six hours into smaller steps
Multiply those time estimates by three
Calendar what you will get done during our sprint
#4 is the key. TRIPLE your time estimates. I do get some resistance (plenty from myself - STILL). I just reassure folks that if you finish early, you have your next task on the list that you can get a head start on.
Even if it’s an overestimation, which it often is not, it leads to some pretty serious benefits.
When I’m doing a task that’s past due, quality suffers, short cuts are taken, innovative opportunities are not explored. And I feel like crap. I’m more likely to gripe at others or blame shift and throw someone else under the bus. Anything to not feel the shame of under-delivering after the deadline.
When I’m doing a task and I finish with time to spare, I can ask myself if it’s up to my standards or if there’s something new or different I want to try. If that’s not the case, I just move on to my next task, patting myself on the back, feeling proud of delivering strong work in a timely fashion.
When something unexpected pops up and messes with my schedule - this happens every week for most of us - I don’t have to panic. I’ve built in extra time. When a project ends up taking way longer than I thought (we call this “mushrooming” in the sprint), you might still be able to get it done in the extended estimate.
When I have estimated my tasks properly, I know if I have time for another project or not. I know that I have time to do work that I’m proud of. I feel calm, engaged, and excited. That’s a far cry from overwhelmed and ashamed of the quality of my tardy work.
So, when I feel myself resisting the tripled time estimate, I just ask myself, which version of ME do I want to be?