Stellar Coaching + Consulting

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Step Away from the Busy Trap

“I’m so busy.”
“What a busy week.”
“Wow, you’ve been busy lately!”

These phrases and others like it are ones I hear regularly. Sometimes, I use them myself. Often these are said with admiration. Whether I’m working with my clients, catching up with colleagues, or visiting with friends and family, “being busy” is bandied about as a measure of success.

The thing is, busy-ness isn’t actually reflective of success. In fact, “busy” can be a success-inhibitor. Let me explain.

When we are busy – and only busy – we are often simply using up time. We are engaged in activities that make us feel oh-so productive, but we’re not actually moving forward or making progress towards our stated goals.

We’re shuffling papers.
We’re shredding or filing.
We’re “organizing”.
We’re scheduling meetings.

Each of these tasks may seem important in the moment. And they need to get done, for sure. The question is this: how is doing THIS task, in this moment, actually contributing to your success? How is this form of “busy” moving you forward?

You and I both know that reaching a goal requires time; often days will go by without us reaching our goal, per se. And yet, on any given day, can you say that you made progress?  In spite of the supposed “busy-ness”, it’s likely that often what you’ve done is nothing more than spin your wheels.

Busy is different from productive. And this, my friends, is the sticking point.

It doesn’t matter how busy you are; if that busy-ness isn’t actually productive in nature, you’re stalling any experience of success.

So how do you distinguish busy from productive?

Here’s one way: “busy” typically has a frenetic energy about it. When folks are busy, they’re often feeling pulled in a million directions, not taking time for breaks, forgetting to eat. (And trust me when I say, I too have been there!).

“Productivity”, on the other hand, can actually be more grounded, still, slow-moving. There’s a greater sense of presence when your time is being used productively. There’s even a spaciousness that can be enjoyed. In other words, when you’re productive, it’s likely that you’ll feel less stressed.

If you’re going to start choosing productivity over mere busy-ness, there are a few things to bear in mind. First, challenge yourself to leave space in your calendar that is open. As your weeks unfold, when you hit the “white-space” choose activities that are deliberately focused and grounded to aid you in moving forward. Reading relevant articles and books is a great activity that seems counter to success, but is actually a key in many ways.

Another strategy to start incorporating is that of visioning. You can’t actually make progress towards your goal if you don’t know what your goal is. So, on a regular basis, take the time to declare your objective. Look at past goals; gauge where you are on that path; tweak your plan as necessary.

Finally, make sure you’re not getting caught in the busy-traps that others may place in your path. Don’t be afraid to ask, how will this particular action move us forward? How is this productive? Standing in the question will ensure that you choose truly productive actions more often than not.

The bottom-line is this: it’s time to stop the glorification of busy (I love this phrase!). Busy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, if it isn’t actually moving you forward. So stop using it as a gauge of success. Focus instead on productivity. Choose the actions, activities and investments in time that will move you forward. Using this approach, being busy will become a thing of the past, and success will be ensured.

Tracy Harvie