Be More Than Just Busy

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

People say they’re so busy, so stressed, that they have too much to do and not enough time to do it, that there aren’t enough hours in the day, if I could just get this done I’d be all set and on and on and . . . .


You can’t do everything, but you can do everything that is important. Our lives are filled with minutiae and trivialities. And time-wasters. And tasks and activities that have little to do with our values, vision and goals. The greatest problem is not that we have too much to do, but that we don’t know what is most important for us to do. We have little-to-no idea of our priorities. We have a sense, deep-down, about what we value, and that we’re not doing those things, or perhaps even moving in the right direction. Our emotions tell us this all the time. But, for whatever reason, we down-play or ignore the signals.

When we 1) get clear about what we want and 2) take the time to capture (write down) all the things we want, we can begin to prioritize and focus. It’s the ambiguity that gets us. When we have only a vague idea of what we want — what we deeply, truly want — we fall prey to the urgent, but not necessarily important (see Covey . . . ). We flit about doing what we think we must to keep things going. We are operating out of an almost-crisis, or, at times, crisis, mentality. We often hop ourselves up on caffeine and, lately, energy drinks filled with not just caffeine, but “herbs” that boost our energy.

(The rise of energy drinks and the important signal that trend presents is a matter for a post of its own.) (By the way, in the spirit of full-disclosure, I do enjoy a couple cups of coffee in the morning, but that’s it; if I’m tired in the afternoon or evening I look at my nourishment and sleep patterns and make positive changes.)

So, we don’t know what we want and we’re increasingly using stimulants to make-it-through-the-day (I’m looking at you Diet Coke and Pepsi, afternoon coffee (hot, iced, blended or otherwise) and (ugghh!) Five Hour Energy and all its ilk). What to do? How do we do what’s important, while avoiding the drive to just do everything that comes up?

Three words: Values, Vision and Goals.

Values: get clear, super, super clear on what truly matters to you. What moods and states are vitally important to you? How do you want to feel? What things in your life are absolutely vital and critical? Your family? Your spouse? Your children? What do you want to spend your energy on each day? What do you want more of in your life? What’s non-negotiable, that you been compromising on? Think about it, take notes and pick no more than five values (to live from).

Vision: What do you want to accomplish in life? What do you want to change, improve and/or create? What huge global trend, issue, problem or opportunity do you want to contribute to? What trajectory do you want for your life? What legacy do want to leave behind (financially, accomplishments, lessons modeled/taught to your children and others . . . )? What do you want to people to say about you at your funeral or memorial service? Think about it. You get to create and shape much of your legacy. In fact, you’re doing it every day, whether you realize it or not.

Goals: Goals are the product of clarity on values and vision. To live your values and progressively, and positively, build your legacy, you have  must have a plan. Goals are how you know what to do each year, month, week, day, minute and instant. Not that you are consulting your goals every second, that’s overwhelming. But you do have a clear and available sense of what is important for you to do — and by contrast, not do — each day and week.

One must regularly review and revise their goals so they can internalize them. For example, I have taken my goals and created ten (short) affirmations which support both the internalization and achievement of my goals. I repeat them six times per day. Lest you think that’s overly time-consuming, or impossible to remember: it only takes me about 90 seconds and my iPhone has an app that reminds me. There are other methods besides affirmations (and I’ll add those to the mix as I experiment), but if they’re good enough for Olympic athletes and top performers in business and professional sports, they’re good enough for me. (I will be talking about affirmations and other methods of reinforcing and internalizing goals in future posts . . . stay tuned!)

Besides values, vision and goals, there is one more thing I want to mention in this post: whenever you’re at work, WORK! (Wherever work is, for you.) Allow me though, one clarification/qualification: it is permissible, and advantageous, to create and sustain friendships at work and to be friendly and available to co-workers, but there must be constructive and appropriate boundaries.

Far too many people spend way too much time wasting time at work. They write and/or pay attention to e-mails that are too long, too wordy, too confusing and sent to too many people. They stop at co-worker’s desks/offices to ask a simple question and linger, starting often inane and pointless conversations because they don’t want to return to the boredom and dissatisfaction of their desks/offices (where the mind-numbing, soul-sucking work they don’t want to do awaits). And, to mention one more, the grand-pappy of all time-wasters: meetings that go too long, with too many people and accomplish way too little. I don’t think any further explanation is required in terms of meetings. (Notice I didn’t even mention the World Wide Web, or smart-phones and you still got the point . . . ?)

You must be asking where’s the hopeful ending of this post (which quickly turned into a bit of a rant)? Here it is: remember your first day of work? When you were full of excitement and hope about the company (or your business . . . ) and what was possible? Was that actually true? If so, reconnect with that and make it true, again. If, as it happens, that idyllic vision of your job didn’t quite pan out, then figure out how, exactly. And then get busy on developing a plan to get the position you truly want (wherever it may be).

Develop a plan that honors your values and supports your vision. Reverse-engineer your Ideal into small, achievable tasks. And then?

Get started. Do task one. Then do task two.  Then do . . . . And, periodically (weekly, or monthly, I would say), review and revise your goals and plans based on what you learn (as you’re taking action).

[By the way, if some, or none, of this post applies to you, great! You’ve put your mask on and the oxygen is flowing; it’s time to help others do the same. Find someone you care about, who seems to be struggling, or even having a spot-of-bother, and ask if you can help. They may refuse at first, but be there for them when they’re ready.]

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