If you read self-help books, you will find plenty of advice telling you how to become less busy or cut down on your responsibilities. I am all for minimalism, and I certainly do not want to encourage multitasking so that you hurt your performance – and we definitely do not want to fall into the busyness trap! Still, most people are definitely doing far too little.
How many people do you know who want to start a new project but just cannot find the time? These very same people probably watch plenty of television (though I know just how entertaining TV can be)! The fact, though, is that they think they do not have time and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I say they should overload themselves instead!
How could you justify watching television if you have a dozen things that need to be done tomorrow? The key is to just involved with interesting projects that come your way (or invent them, as is the idea with this blog). Yes, it is bad to promise more than you can deliver and fail somebody whom you made a promise to. On the other hand, odds are you are going to work all the harder because you do not want to fail. There is also the psychological effect known as time discounting, which basically says we will take a short term reward over a long term benefit (for example, $68 now instead of $100 later). This also helps explain why we we become complacent when we do not have enough things that need to be done.
You may think that this sounds like a stressful way to live, but I would disagree (besides, good stress is linked with longevity!). To me, the most unbearable stress of all would be to realize that it was midnight and I had accomplished nothing of importance with my day. I choose my projects almost exclusively on the basis of them being interesting to me, so wasting time on other tasks seems like a sin. As the famous quotation says, if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life. You may not have the opportunity to quit a job you do not love, but there are still plenty of hours in the day that can be spent wisely.
When someone asks me if I have time to work on something new (as happens quite often in my day job as a mobile application developer), I almost invariably say yes – as long as I think the idea sounds promising. Rather than leading to missed deadlines, this philosophy has led to even greater success.
This is because my attitude of doing anything that is worth doing right now means I am constantly accomplishing new things. I am constantly overloaded, but nothing stays on my plate for long. Yes, sometimes I am forced to kill a project, but never have I dropped the ball where it counts.
“Synergy” is one of my favorite words. It just rolls off the tongue, a beautiful descriptor of how the world works when things go right. Here is how the dictionary defines it:
the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects
When you get going, things often seem to fall into place. In the world of travel you make friends as you move about, you gain experience, and things just plain get easier. The same is true in business, learning languages and most other walks of life. Starting in a new field or on a new project is scary and daunting, but synergy means that every step you takes brings you more than one step closer. After learning one foreign language, the second and third are easier. After making contacts in an industry, meeting more people and doing business is easier.
The more things you work on, the more synergy works for you. I have made new business partnerships from the road and applied business tactics to travel *. I am convinced that each of the experiments on this blog make the next one all the easier. All of life’s experiences work together to help you, so long as you are bold enough to diversify your experiences.
Just Do It (Once!)
Nike is really on to something with this one. For far too much of my life I was one of those people who drafted and re-drafted emails, afraid to ever press the send button.
Over time I grew up and became less scared of embarrassing myself in business. I also became more busy and found that I simply did not have the time to spend over-analyzing every decision. There is one quotation in particular, though, that really woke me up:
Most people do things three times: once in preparation, once in action and once in review. I try to do things only once.
How much time, collectively, is wasted in the world spent doing things more than once? How often do we each think about things that we cannot change? In the words of the famous book “the Tao of Pooh:”
Time cannot be saved – it can only be spent wisely or spent poorly.
There are many simple activities that are good ways to spend your time. Relaxing with friends, having a picnic in the park, etc.: these are all wonderful ways to spend time… as long as you spend it well. If you spend that time focusing on work or reliving a recent quarrel then your mind is not in the present, as the Buddhists would advocate. This New York Times article makes a good point on the matter: many people are “too busy” because they see it as a sort of status. It would be better to be busy for the sake of accomplishments. If you are whining or boasting about how busy you are, then you are doing it wrong.
I could rant for days against people who always claim to “be too busy” (you know the sort – they take weeks to respond to anything, always with some explanation for their tardiness that consumes half tho conversation). Frankly, this is an excuse and a subtle form of bragging. Sometimes it is a legitimate excuse (and I am not one to condemn others for bragging), but if you find yourself using it regularly then you are probably spending more time evading what needs to be done than simply doing it. The most productive people understand that the best way to get anything done is just to do it right now. It really is that simple.
Too many of us spend time making work that does not have any real purpose, checking and re-checking our inbox or smartphone for updates. I know because I was one of these people. This sort of compulsively staying in touch or multitasking is not being too busy – it is being self-important. When you do too much, though, it becomes easier to acknowledge that these things are a waste of time and focus on getting things done. In today’s society we are so conditioned to need to feel like we are busy all the time, we might as well put that compulsiveness to good use. Instead of inventing busywork, invent things worth doing!
I have spoken at length about how to sleep less, fall asleep quickly and so on. The tactics are all sound, but at the end of the day the greatest fatigue-eliminating drug I have found is excitement. It is the magic pill and silver bullet. It is the reason I get out of bed at 7am and am still going strong at night. As soon as I am no longer excited about something, I search for something new – even if I should (hypothetically) have no time.
The best tactic I have discovered for productivity is to do one thing at a time, deliberately and mindfully, and then move on to the next thing. I am not advocating the “running around like a lunatic” that I see occurring in today’s business culture. I propose, rather, a systematic and diligent approach to do everything, one thing at a time.
What are you doing? Is it less than what you are capable of, and if so, what is really holding you back? Let me know below!