Why are you so busy? And what can you do about it?

“It is not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”– Henry David Thoreau

Whenever you ask someone how they are, they often reply busy. Everyone is busy, to-do lists grow longer each day, meetings take up half the day, and that’s before any problems appear from now where to cause disruption.

What about if I asked a different question?

Are you productive?

Being busy makes you feel useful but are you using your limitation time doing the tasks that will bring the most value. Ants and Bees are busy but they have to be busy to survive. Being busy isn’t enough to bring long term gains to your project or career.

Being busy is like treading water, it keeps your head above water but it doesn’t take you anywhere.

Army ants if they lose the pheromone track, will blindly follow the ant ahead. This can lead to ant mill, which is where ants get stuck in a circle and will eventually die of exhaustion. This minor version of this can happen at work, where you lose sight of where you are and get caught up doing tasks and being busy. 

It’s time to pick your head up and make sure you are heading in the right direction before you lose motivation and become exhausted.

Be less busy

The first step in understanding why you are busy is to understand what you are doing. Reasons for being busy.

  • Doing tasks you can delegate or other people can do
  • Tasks which are the responsibility of someone else
  • Habit
  • older priorities

If you don’t protect your time and prioritise, you work on the priorities of others, at the cost of your priorities.

To get a project moving forward, I did my job and another role because a person wasn’t doing their job well. It was difficult to give those tasks back; the work was being done.

When you do the work for someone it’s a short term fix because their performance is hidden. If someone isn’t doing well in their role, they can improve their skills (training, mentor, help), put in more effort or move to a position they will enjoy and feel motivated to do.

When you see a problem, stop and think whose problem is this? If it’s not your problem, highlight the issue and help the person but don’t do it for them. Help them learn to fish, don’t just give them the fish.

Saying no is a superpower, you need to understand your priorities and your responsibilities. Don’t overload capable people, create and train more.

Just because you can do something well, it doesn’t mean you should. If it fits with your goals, great but make sure you think before you say yes. You have a finite capacity, use it on the tasks that matter most to you.

Doing it yourself

One reason to be busy is being delegated tasks, another is not delegated tasks. A trap newly promoted employees fall into is doing too much of the work themselves because they trust their output. Before long they find themselves overloaded and their team with spare capacity.

If you can delegate, you should delegate

In the short term delegating allows you to focus on more important tasks and in the long term it develop other people. Long-term benefits cost you in the short term because you need to give more help whilst the person learn and develops the skills needed.

Growing people helps the career of everyone, as a team you will be able to do greater things.

Think long term

To get somewhere fast, know your destination, where your career is heading, so you can get the skills, knowledge, experience and relationships you require.

Once you identify your long-term goals, you will see opportunities to work towards them.

Visualise your future role, you need to work towards being that person today. We can lose motivation because it’s not always enjoyable doing things we aren’t good at. Theory helps us improve, but the fastest way is by doing and learning from the feedback.

You don’t get to be a talented programmer by reading/watching about writing code, you become a brilliant programmer by writing lots of code and reading/watching.