In a world of cognitive overload, constant distraction and fraying boundaries between professional and personal life, busyness has become epidemic – and is triggering burnout, ill health and reduced productivity. Yet busyness is as unnecessary as it is counterproductive. Leadership coach Zena Everett identifies the sources of busyness, helps readers evaluate how they spend their time, and shares tools for boosting productivity. Although her guide treads well-worn ground, it offers valuable tips for escaping busyness hell. If you’re too busy to read a book, this might be just the book you need.
- Being too busy can damage your health and stymie your progress toward your goals.
- Busyness often arises from perfectionism, codependency and other personality traits.
- To become less crazy busy, identify and prioritize your most important goals and tasks.
- Accomplish your priorities by assigning time and focus to them.
- To stay motivated, use short daily to-do lists.
- Keep control over sources of interruptions and distractions.
- Make meetings count – or skip them.
- If you’re a manager, helping your people reduce their busyness will reduce your own.
- Use your newfound time and calm to enjoy your life.
Being too busy can damage your health and stymie your progress toward your goals.
Humans today are facing cognitive overload, the result of an accelerated lifestyle, cultural busyness in organizations, and digitization. The constant overwhelm leads to feelings of stress, frustration and loneliness. And busyness can have profound impacts on your career. For one thing, overly busy people tend to spend too much time on mundane tasks and not enough time on big-picture thinking; they put excessive effort into tasks that are already in the works rather than creating something new. Moreover, crazy busyness can limit managers’ ability to do their job well, as they lack time to anticipate roadblocks, build relationships with their employees and help their workers develop their careers.
“You should be able to do a great job, in reasonable hours, then go home, have a life and return to work the next day as your very best self. That shouldn’t be a big ask.”
Being “crazy busy” robs you of valuable head space – the time left over after you’ve completed your core duties, necessary administrative work and unexpected but important tasks. Head space gives you a precious window of time for strategizing, innovating, learning and building relationships. Yet many people neglect these activities because busyness inundates their head space.
Perhaps most tragic of all, crazy busyness can damage your social and family life, cause you to lose track of personal needs and desires, and waste large swaths of your life.
Busyness often arises from perfectionism, codependency and other personality traits.
You can step off the crazy busy treadmill, and stop juggling and struggling so much, by finding the root cause of your overwhelm and seeking solutions. Busyness often starts with good intentions, such as a commitment to hard work. That dedication can become detrimental when it combines with four personality traits that can fuel crazy busyness:
- Perfectionism – If you hold extremely high standards, you might prefer the certainty of doing less important tasks, which you perform well, over the risk of attempting challenging tasks and perhaps performing poorly. Perfectionism often breeds procrastination – a subconscious tactic to avoid the risk of failure.
- Failure to delegate – If you resist delegating work to colleagues and direct reports, you’ll end up with mountains of work. A strong preference to do things yourself can stem from a need for control or a lack of trust.
- Codependency – If you focus too much on caring for others, you might neglect your own needs. Other times, having too much on your plate results from equating being crazy busy with being valuable. Like perfectionists, codependent people feel uncomfortable receiving critical feedback and have difficulty tolerating failure.
- Disorganization – Some people become crazy busy because they lack the skills to manage their time and tasks. Frequently, people set priorities but tend to less important items on their agendas first and consequently end up spending more time at work. Some people process information in ways that limit their ability to stay organized, on task or on time. For these people, changes in their practices – such as using a timer, a whiteboard or a specialized app – can alleviate their busyness.
To become less crazy busy, identify and prioritize your most important goals and tasks.
The temptation to address small tasks first in order to gain a sense of progress can be difficult to resist. But resist you must. Like a prowling lion, pursue the “antelopes” – the big-ticket items that will really make a difference – instead of the “field mice.” Tend to the most important things – then relax.
“Being more productive doesn’t mean working longer hours. It means choosing tasks with the greatest impact and then eliminating interruptions so that you can get on with them.”
Define your most important activities by considering all your goals and tasks and evaluating which matter most. Which jobs offer you the biggest opportunity to make the greatest contribution? Identify your “game changer” – the single area of focus that will make the most difference to you professionally. Clarify your top values, too, and consider whether they align with your actions. Make relationships a priority – particularly, if you’re a manager, those with your employees. To feel more comfortable focusing on priorities, consider how much you earn per hour and assess which of your activities justify that rate. Focus on those, and delegate the rest.
Accomplish your priorities by assigning time and focus to them.
To ensure you tackle and complete your most important tasks, use the PIMP process:
- “Priority” – Identify a priority and decide how much time you’ll need to complete it. Aim for accuracy; try not to overestimate or underestimate the time you’ll need.
- “Insert” – Place the task in your calendar. Use your calendar primarily to schedule tasks, and fit meetings and routine work around your tasks.
- “Mean” – When you reserve time for the task, make a definite commitment to use the time that way. Stick to that commitment by protecting the time from other demands. Let people know you’ll be unavailable during the time you’ve blocked out.
- “Prompt” – Use a prompt, such as an alarm, to remind yourself to start the task. Turn off distractions, and move to a different location if necessary to focus on your priority.
Though the design of the PIMP system is intended for scheduling and accomplishing antelope tasks, but you can use it to manage your field mice, too. By scheduling them, you’ll get them off your mind and free up mental bandwidth.
For each task, map out in advance how you’ll approach it. When the time comes to tackle the task, focus on it. Multitasking is impossible. When you attempt to perform multiple tasks at once, in reality you switch back and forth between the tasks. Refocusing your attention each time you switch costs you valuable time and energy, so you lose efficiency and productivity.
“One of the major causes of project failure is people multitasking rather than making concerted progress on their priority task.”
Always aim for a state of flow – the state that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described as the feeling of complete absorption in a task, when time seems to expand and you feel lost in the activity. The state of flow can be instrumental to accomplishing priorities, as it offers high productivity and enjoyment. To achieve flow, choose a time of day when you can best focus, and eliminate any distractions that could compete for your attention while you work. Ignore any negative self-talk. Be clear on your starting point, and have a plan. Take breaks when you feel fatigued, but make them short, and don’t allow yourself to become distracted. Start with weekly flow sessions, and work your way up to a daily schedule.
To stay motivated, use short daily to-do lists.
To-do lists boost motivation by giving you a hit of dopamine every time you cross off a task. A to-do list can also help you avoid procrastinating, work more productively (because you always know your next move), and stay on task. To create a to-do list, create an inventory of your goals, and itemize the steps required to achieve each of them. But don’t try to use this complete to-do list to plan your work. Instead, allow it to serve as a reference. Select items from the list to slot into your calendar, and create short daily to-do lists. Each day, identify one must-do item, or antelope, and prioritize it. Then add your field mice, such as administrative tasks. Keep the daily list to a manageable length: Your to-do list should give you a sense of control, not overwhelm. Update the master list weekly.
“It’s not easy to resist the siren song of work that’s below your pay grade.”
Even with a prioritized to-do list, you might be tempted to address low-priority items first, or to wait to be “in the mood” before you begin a task. Perfectionism and fear of failure might cause you to procrastinate. Instead, get on with your most important work, and let good enough be good enough. If you have a tendency to allow tasks to exceed their allotted time, set a timer.
To maintain motivation, review your progress regularly, and check items off your to-do list as you complete them. At the beginning of each work week, review what went well the previous week. Identify your most important tasks for the week ahead, pinpoint any potential obstacles to achieving them, and decide on how you will overcome them. Prioritize planning: Whatever time you allot to planning, you’ll recoup much more in increased productivity.
Keep control over sources of interruptions and distractions.
Email is a notorious time waster. Emptying your inbox may give you a quick sense of achievement, but it distracts you from more important tasks. To prevent email from contributing to your busyness, check it at scheduled times, and respond to each message as soon as you read it. Consider making a phone call instead of sending an email.
In-person interruptions also create distractions and can prevent you from reaching a state of flow. Unplanned conversations can have value, but try to limit them to predetermined blocks of time. Schedule brief one-on-one meetings to catch up with your direct reports, and provide specific times – similar to professors’ office hours or doctors’ surgeries – when you make yourself available. Be fully present during those times.
“The workplace is no respecter of martyrs: Assertiveness and negotiation skills are far more highly valued than a boundless capacity for being a doormat.”
Beware of social media’s power to waste your time and disorder your life. App developers have tapped into deep psychological drives to make their apps addictive. Phones waste your time by constantly grabbing your attention and reducing your ability to think clearly about the task at hand. Social media platforms can facilitate some work connections, but don’t let them substitute for in-person contact.
Make meetings count – or skip them.
Poorly planned and managed meetings consume many wasted hours. Meetings should focus on making decisions, not sharing information. For every meeting you organize or attend, clearly identify the meeting’s purpose, process (that is, the contribution expected from each attendee), and payoff or outcome. Refuse to attend any meeting with more than three attendees that lacks an agenda.
“Well-run meetings and one-to-ones are crucial touch points for building trust in your team and getting stuff done. Badly run meetings are an incredibly expensive use of resource.”
Start meetings promptly, and stick to the agenda. Put the most critical issue at the top of the agenda. Set etiquette rules, such as forbidding the use of phones in the meeting room. Limit the use of PowerPoint. Give standing meetings a name that identifies their purpose and helps keep them productive.
For virtual meetings, prepare thoroughly ahead of time. Keep your video on, use a strong voice, and use body language to signal your attention and interest. Light your face from in front of the monitor, and look directly into the camera – rather than at the screen – when you speak.
If you’re a manager, helping your people reduce their busyness will reduce your own.
People often earn management positions by working hard, and their new responsibilities make them even busier. To prevent overwhelm, you’ll need to be willing to relinquish some of your responsibilities. Don’t micromanage. Instead, your main function should be to remove obstacles that would limit your people’s ability to do their work. Make sure your direct reports know exactly what you expect of them and how to do their jobs. Identify and fix flaws in systems. Ensure that your people have the skills and resources they need, and that the office setting is quiet enough to facilitate flow. Create conditions for your people to have good life-work balance. Provide opportunities for employees to connect with one another. Make decisions promptly so that you don’t hold up their work.
“Creating an environment in which people feel comfortable to take risks and occasionally mess up is key to fostering innovation and, ultimately, higher performance.”
Regularly compliment employees for work well done, offer suggestions for improvement, and solicit feedback on your own performance. Establish an environment of trust, and address difficulties promptly.
Watch for burnout due to stress in yourself and others. Common signs include difficulty accomplishing tasks, apathy and a negative attitude. To prevent burnout, consider how you might reduce people’s stress – for example, through better planning or by setting less-demanding expectations.
Use your newfound time and calm to enjoy your life.
If your self-worth was formerly grounded in activity, or if you were using busyness to avoid unpleasantness in other aspects of your life, getting accustomed to a calmer pace might take some time. Use the time you’ve gained to align yourself with your values. Get to know yourself, and build deep and genuine relationships with others. Choose activities that are meaningful to you.
“Please don’t sacrifice your precious years on work that doesn’t matter or pointless email conversations or other people’s urgent and selfish demands.”
Use your newfound time to enjoy your work, even if you don’t do it perfectly. Nurture your connections with people, and help them flourish. And dedicate your extra time to head space – that is, time to learn, create, innovate and think of the future.
About the Author
Leadership coach, author and speaker Zena Everett specializes in helping executives and teams set priorities and achieve goals.
I have read the book [The Crazy Busy Cure: A productivity book for people who don’t have time to read productivity books] by [Zena Everett] and here is my summary and review of the book:
The book [The Crazy Busy Cure: A productivity book for people who don’t have time to read productivity books] by [Zena Everett] is a guide for anyone who wants to learn how to overcome the addiction of being busy and instead become more productive and focused on their goals. The author, an executive coach and organizational psychologist, draws on her many years of experience and coaching and speaking to people and organizations about productivity blockers and how to shift them. The book teaches the readers how to:
- Identify and prioritize the tasks and people that are important to them and align them with their values and vision
- Eliminate or delegate the low-value, low-impact tasks that distract them from their priorities, such as digital distractions, unnecessary meetings, pointless emails, and reports
- Manage their time, energy, and attention more effectively by using tools and techniques such as the PIMP process, the Head Space model, the Eisenhower matrix, the Pomodoro technique, and more
- Manage other people’s work as well as their own by using strategies such as Lawn Mower Managers, SMART objectives, feedback loops, and coaching skills
- Apply these practices to virtual working, including chapters on staying energized and productive when working remotely and influencing on Zoom
- Adapt these practices to different learning and thinking styles, including a chapter on neurodiversity and productivity hacks for people with dyspraxia and attention deficit disorder
The book also covers topics such as the psychology of anticipation, the role of data and analytics, the challenges and risks of anticipation, and the future of anticipation. The book provides practical tips, examples, exercises, and checklists to help the readers apply the concepts and skills in their own context. The book features contributions from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jim Whitehurst, Mike Shinoda, Ali Velshi, Jim Zemlin, and others. The book also includes case studies and examples from various organizations that have successfully used anticipation to create value and impact.
The book [The Crazy Busy Cure: A productivity book for people who don’t have time to read productivity books] by [Zena Everett] is a comprehensive and insightful resource for anyone who wants to learn how to overcome the addiction of being busy and instead become more productive and focused on their goals. The author’s credentials and expertise are evident throughout the book, as she shares her insights and anecdotes from her extensive career in the field of productivity coaching. The book is well-written, engaging, and easy to follow, with clear explanations and illustrations. The book covers a wide range of topics that are relevant and useful for anyone who wants to create value and impact through productivity. The book also offers a balanced perspective on productivity, avoiding the extremes of perfectionism and procrastination. The book encourages the readers to adopt a strategic and pragmatic approach to productivity that will help them achieve their goals.
The book is not only informative but also inspiring, as it shows the readers how they can overcome the addiction of being busy and instead become more productive and focused on their goals. The book teaches the readers how to identify prioritize tasks people that are important them align them with their values vision eliminate delegate low-value low-impact tasks that distract them from their priorities manage their time energy attention more effectively using tools techniques manage other people’s work as well as their own using strategies apply these practices virtual working adapt these practices different learning thinking styles. The book also challenges the readers to test their knowledge skills through exercises scenarios that simulate real-world situations. The book is not only a guide for overcoming the addiction of being busy but also a manifesto for creating a productive organization.
Overall I think this book is a valuable addition to anyone’s library who wants to learn how to overcome the addiction of being busy and instead become more productive and focused on their goals. The book is not only informative but also inspiring as it shows readers how they can overcome addiction being busy instead become more productive focused their goals. I would recommend this book anyone who wants learn how overcome addiction being busy instead become more productive focused their goals.