It is very easy to confuse motion with accomplishment, but simply being busy doesn’t do anything toward reaching our goals. Being busy can be addictive. Look around and you will hear a lot of people complaining about how busy they are, but when you look deeper, it is clear that they like being busy.
I’m not sure why this is. I think being busy makes us feel important. It is possible that we feel important because we assume that important people are busy or that people who accomplish a lot are busy. While neither of these things is necessarily true, there is something about being busy that people like.
The people who are really productive are usually the the least busy. In fact, sometimes it doesn’t seem like they do very much, but it is quality of the little they do that adds great value. Truly productive people focus on providing value, not on doing more things.
When we focus on creating value instead of just doing more things, we are able to focus on what is really important. Often, this means getting rid of tasks that seem important but provide no lasting value. Often it means shifting responsibility for tasks to someone else.
When you start noticing that your focus is shifting away from “what can I do?” and toward “what is valuable?” you are taking the first steps toward being less busy and more productive.
Originally published April 16, 2007.
I’m always trying to find the balance in this aspect of life. It drives me crazy to hear my friends complaining that they’re so busy or so stressed. They seem like the least productive, I’ve always thought that they just liked the drama, but I think you got it right when you say it makes people feel important.
@Corey – I think we are some how trained to try to be busy. In an office setting, if someone comes in late, works for two hours and then leaves it will be frowned upon. I hope that the advance in technology is going to let us start paying people more for their performance and less for their time. My hope is that it will start making people shift from doing random stuff to doing the things that actually add value.
I read about a man who came from Africa to go to school in the US. His landlady wanted to hire him to dig some ditches. She tried to work out an hourly rate with him, but he refused because the idea of being paid for his time seemed absurd. He could go slow and make more money, he reasoned. Eventually they settled on a fixed price per ditch and he was happy.
Kian Ann says
True.. very true. and think I’d addicted to being busy, so much so when I have “nothing to do”, I feel guilty at times eh?