How to cope with a busy life
Why Lieutenant Columbo won’t help you solve the crime of busyness
Now I love Columbo as much as the next man. I’m not criticising his detection skills as he knows how to catch the bad guys.
But, if you’re finding you’ve ended up in the dark underworld of being too busy, you need to turn to someone else for help.
Busyness is seductive
The pull to be busy is strong. It’s appealing. And it can be deadly.
It feels good to get stuff done. And, you have specific standards. 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 many 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?
Is being busy so bad?
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 active. But not always. Busy and being productive are not the same thing.
The difference between busyness and productivity
Let’s start with productivity. Several clues 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 from just being busy. I’m less frustrated and stressed. I feel pleased that I’m getting somewhere and energised to keep going.
When I’m not productive but just busy, it’s the opposite. I over-work. I put off essential elements of my self-care, like exercise and eating nutritious food. I’m more likely to have a beer or a glass of wine during the week when I get home.
Being busy is like chasing your tail. You’re more frantic, too absorbed in your work, and your performance suffers. You lose patience with 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 start 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, you are “consistently fixated on or preoccupied with a particular topic”. It’s what you call an idiom. And to be productive, not just busy, 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 appear daily.
To be fair, Columbo’s infamous retort was consistent with his single purpose; to investigate and discover the truth about what happened. It suggests that Columbo is probably more helpful in this situation than I 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 crucial purpose
Get clear about what’s important and 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 the most critical direction in your work.
Step 2: Organise your time effectively
Like everyone else, you have a lot of different responsibilities. You feel your day with what you have to do. But, there will be time left over for what you want to do.
Every day, you have pressure 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 by writing down your single most important purpose. Then write down what you hope or intend to get done that day. Make sure it aligns with your goal, and slot these tasks into time slots. If no time spaces are available, 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 downtime
It would be best if you rested because every superhero needs to sleep. You can’t always be on standby or constantly on the go.
Factor in some downtime every day, and you’ll be able to keep going for longer. Avoid it, and you’ll burn out sooner.
You do an essential job, and you benefit society. People might not always say it, but I want to thank you for your contributions 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 for you to be around for a long time. Focus on your single most important purpose. Develop a one-track mind and resist the urge to heed the pressure of one more thing.