Staying busy leaves you stagnant; not growing, not solving anything, and not living in your zone of genius. It is the equivalent of looking the other way and thinking that if you don’t see something it is not real.
Taking time off is hard, especially if you love what you do.
An interesting thing happens when you shift into more purpose-driven work. If you’re not careful, it will consume you. It’s not like having the corporate job where you count down the minutes until the weekend arrives. Doing work you love, being committed to a purpose or calling greater than you, can easily lure you into working all the time.
I just spent an entire week unplugging from my regular day-to-day duties. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done in a long time because my busy mind says that I should be getting caught up on projects that are long overdue.
So except for a mid-week coaching collaboration and a couple of client catch up calls, I spent the majority of the last week camping on Mt. Hood and relaxing at the beach. This is part of my commitment to experiment with unplugging during the last week of every month through the summer.
To be completely honest, part of the time spent at the beach was dedicated to planning the next quarter. My wife Jill and I are at a point where we realize just how important it is to step away and create a 90 day plan for achieving the things that are most important. Otherwise, our businesses will stay the same and we’ll look up at the end of 90 days and wonder how another quarter slipped by without getting our most important work done.
Are you “Crazy-Busy?”
I realize that I’ve been highly focused on the topic of ‘busyness’ lately. That’s because I’ve been struggling with it – in my life and in my business.
I’ve also recognized that I’ve used busyness as a shield to avoid confronting unpleasant truths in my life. In her New York Times bestseller, Daring Greatly, Dr. Brene Brown argues that people use different numbing strategies as armor against vulnerability — showing other people who you really are. And before you think that this doesn’t apply to you because you’re not numbing with drugs or alcohol, Dr. Brown talks about one of the most prevalent numbing strategies people use – something she calls “crazy-busy.” She says, “I often say that when they start having 12-step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums. We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.”
If you’re stuck in crazy-busy land, where do you even start to come up for air? Here are three strategies to begin digging yourself out:
1) Set boundaries. You’ve heard this a million times, but you really need to establish firm boundaries around your time and your energy.
I realize that most people won’t create the time to do this but it’s what I had to do to finally get a grip and create boundaries for myself.
Consider the following system:
Take a piece of paper and divide it onto three sections: Do it, Delegate it, and Ditch it.
Commit to checking in every hour or two throughout your work day over the next week. Set a timer and take stock of what tasks you've been focused on every 1-2 hours and then categorize your activities in one of the three sections.
Do it: If it’s something that no one else but you can do, then put it in this column. For me, this would include things like coaching my clients or recording my podcast.
Delegate it: If it’s something that you can delegate or offload to someone else, then write it down here. I promise that you’ll be amazed at all of the shit you’re doing that someone else could be doing way more efficiently than you. An example for me would be bookkeeping, editing my podcast, formatting my weekly blog/newsletter. And trust me when I say that the longer you wait to delegate these kinds of things, the harder it will be for you to do it.
Ditch it: Is this something you have to do at all? Can you let it go completely? Believe me, there are things in your day that probably aren’t necessary at all. An example for me would be spending more than 15 minutes a day on social media or engaging in news media. Be honest with yourself here.
2) Establish your balance builders and balance busters. I do this exercise in my resilience coaching to help people think about how to manage their energy and rethink what work/life balance really means.
Make a table with four squares labeled as follows: Balance Builders — Work; Balance Builders — Non-Work; Balance Busters — Work; and Balance Busters — Non-Work. Balance builders are those activities that build your energy and rejuvenate you while balance busters are those activities that deplete or drain your energy.
Take a few moments to write down all of those activities, people and tasks that make you feel alive vs the ones that drain you. Do this in the areas of work and non-work.
I’m always shocked at how much time we spend doing activities that drain us — both at work and outside of work. In fact, in a recent conversation with a client they realized that they spend 90 percent of their time doing activities that drain them and only 10 percent of their time doing activities that energize and rejuvenate them! No wonder we’re burning out.
3) Get mentally fit. A fundamental tenet of cognitive science is that your thoughts drive your emotions and actions. When you have an emotion or reaction to a stress producing event that you don’t like or that surprises you, map out what you were thinking in the heat of the moment right before you reacted. Developing self-awareness around your thoughts will help you get better at processing your emotions and reactions in a way that will help you stop undercutting your performance and instead, build resilience.
In order to keep yourself from burning out, it can help to take a close look at what’s driving your addiction to being busy. I’ve found that journaling first thing in the morning is a great way for me to capture my thoughts and check in with how I’m really doing. Most of us will miss the warning signs along the way and have a wake up call in the form of a stress induced illness or accident. Do everything you can to prevent this.
The irony of doing any of these exercises is that you’ll be required to set aside time to do them, even though you feel like you don’t have any extra time. I didn’t have the extra time to take a week off from my business and unplug, plan and reconnect with my wife. But doing so has forced me to get really clear about what’s important, what to let go of, and where I need to invest in people, processes and systems that will allow me to enjoy the life and business that I’m building.
I try to remind myself to cherish every moment I have with my family, friends, and the people I care about. I fight the urge to stay busy and ‘check out’ of being in the present moment, because if I let this moment slip away, I will never get it back.
I read somewhere that if you stick your hand in a river you can never touch the same water twice, because by the time you stick your hand back in, the water has moved on. It is like that with time and being busy simply for the sake of being busy; once that moment is gone you can never get it back.