Over the past year I’ve given my share of charitable donations. The only one that I don’t get a tax receipt for, however, is the monthly donation I give to one place. It’s called the gym. I know, I know, it is not a charitable place, but I am giving them a monthly payment to not go at all, so it kind of feels like it is a charitable donation! When I first got my gym membership, I went to the gym probably 2-3 times per week. Then after a while, it was once per week, then none. My intentions were good, I want to get healthy, but there was this slight barrier. I was too busy. How could I possibly make the time to go to the gym when there were other things that I should be doing?
Many of us have had a similar problem. Think about the last time that someone asked us how things were going? We probably responded with, “pretty good, you know…keeping pretty busy!” We’ve also used it to say no, without saying no – “Well, I’m pretty busy these days, let me check my schedule and get back to you…”
In our culture today we hold the word “busy” as a badge of honour. If we are not busy, it feels somehow like we are failing or getting left behind in this fast-paced world. So then we fill the white spaces in our calendar to make it look like we are really busy and we end up spreading ourselves too thin. Recently, this notion of busyness has been present in many coaching sessions with clients. They start by proudly exclaiming how busy they are and their excitement slowly settles into the bags under their eyes. They are exhausted, they are so busy with little tasks that they are no longer able to focus on the core of their job – leading their staff. The tasks of the position have overwhelmed them (for multiple reasons) and they no longer feel that they have enough time for their staff, for themselves, or for their family and friends.
Here is the simply reality of it: It is not a busyness problem that we face, it is a priority problem. Yes, in today’s organizations, there are many instances where the organization’s system is set up to overload certain individuals and place a number of high priority commitments in these individual’s to-do list. This is a very real problem. However, let us be clear, transparent, and honest in our allocation of blame towards our problem. Is it really a systemic issue that we’re facing? Or are we simply allowing the blame to fall on the system when it is actually our priority misalignment? I didn’t stop going to the gym because I was too busy, I stopped going because I did not make my health a high priority. Sure there were lots of reasons that I could not make the time to go; kids to play with, reports to write, meetings to go to, invoices to send, friends to see. I made lots of excuses about why I could not go to the gym, but the reality was I was not making it a priority in my life.
We make time for our priorities. If our kids are a high priority, then we make sure that we are there for them. If our staff are a high priority, then we make the time to support them. The hardest part of solving our busyness problem is realizing the current state of our priorities…and that can be a harsh reality for us to face.
Here are three ways that we can combat busyness and focus on our priorities:
Make time for you: The more you are working on yourself, the more self-awareness you are gaining, the easier it will be to see when your priorities are out of order. If you have certain things that are in line with your priorities, schedule them into your calendar. Even if it is family time, or reading a book that will push you in your goals, put it in your calendar and treat it like any other appointment or meeting.
Eliminate Distractions: How much time do you spend reading the newspaper, Facebook, playing games on your phone? It is a lot easier to stick to your priorities when you are clear of distractions. So close your email and only respond to it certain times of the day, only open one tab on your internet browser to avoid the internet black hole, put your phone on silent (or turn it off!) to avoid unscheduled phone calls.
Start Your Morning Right: If you start your day with Facebook or emails, what does that do to your mindset for the rest of the day? Start your day off by setting your agenda for the day, and then stick to it. What is it that you want to accomplish? What goals or tasks are going to move you forward? What can you do to put yourself into your best self, first thing in the morning?
What does your priority list look like? Are you currently filling your time according to your list or has it been taken over with filler? My priority list has, for too long, sat on the sidelines and my “busyness” has slowly increased. It is time to bring my priorities back into focus, and I hope you will join me.