How many times have you asked someone how they’re doing and the answer is “Busy!” As if that’s a good thing!
Well, yeah. EVERYONE is busy.
But I personally think that “being busy” can be an enemy of real success, second only to “looking busy”. Who taught us that being busy (and, because of it, often stressed) is a measure of doing a good job? Do your direct reports believe they must work long hours to earn your respect? Or are there clear expectations on what work needs to be done, by when, how it will be objectively determined when it’s done and how success is measured?
Busyness at work implies an overloaded calendar, a mountain of unopened emails and more open to-do’s than a mere mortal’s work week can handle. Yet this frenetic pace is most modern workers’ most comfortable state; they return to it again and again by default. Why?
In some ways “being busy” has become a defense mechanism – a way to push back on change or following through on opportunities to continuously improve. When “busy” has us stretched too wide, it’s difficult to dive deeper where the treasure lies.
Busy vs Intense
I don’t deny that there are times (sometimes many days in a row) that simply burst with deadlines, conference calls and heads-down work that just won’t fit into a 9-hour workday.
These aren’t “busy” days, these are days brimming with intensity of purpose. Having this intensity is a state of work in its own right – directed, focused on being better and achieving greater things, and productive to the max.
Perhaps Cal Newport, a Georgetown computer science professor, has captured this best in his formula:
Work accomplished = time spent x intensity
Because I don’t believe in working long hours just for the sake of working long hours, the hours I work are intentional and impactful. And yes, most often very intense (and my wife agrees when I arrive home and tell her, “no questions about the day! Just let me just sit in silence for a while”). It’s important to me that burning the midnight oil is the exception, not the begrudgingly accepted reality – and I expect this of my team, as well.
When I need to stay late or work on the weekends, I’m comfortable doing so as I know that I’ve been working on the right things that need some extra pushing to get across the finish line. It is strategic.
Intense? Yes. Just another Wednesday night? Forget about it. Intensity is controlled and focused, while “busy” is overwhelming and scattershot.
Working deep within the moment
This focus on working intensely has ties to mindfulness. When you are working in the moment, you are working with purpose and clarity.
“Mindfulness enables choice, the opportunity to act instead of react,” says George Pitagorsky, author of Managing Expectations: A Mindful Approach to Achieving Success.
In this mindset, your brain is operating on a different level – one that helps you stay connected to the task at hand (which is to say, the things that matter) and improve your listening skills and emotional intelligence to boot.
There’s no shame in admitting that I want to work fewer hours so that I can spend more time outside of the office.
By tapping into focused intensity, instead of giving into ‘busyness’, I’m opening the door to an elevated level of productivity and personal development.
And that is absolutely worth my time.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.