Shift from Busy to Significant
The morning alarm goes off. You dread the idea of going to the office, constantly running from thing to thing but never getting it all done…overwhelmed with everything you have to do. You know you can’t go on feeling stressed all the time because it is affecting your health.
You’re not alone. When you ask people what they’ve been up to, the most common answer today is, “Busy”. In our fast-paced, complicated society, people are desperately trying to juggle demanding careers and personal lifestyles with no time to catch their breath. Worse yet, neuroscientists have found that when we feel pressed for time and caught up in overwhelm, the prefrontal cortex shrinks, reducing our thinking capacity to that of a chimpanzee. Recent studies also conclude that we are not really working any harder today compared with 40 years ago. Why then do we feel wrung out, joyless, and stretched too thin to smell the roses?
The challenge we face is fragmentation. We switch between checking emails and text messages on our ‘smart’ phones to interacting with co-workers and patients, to writing clinical notes, to making dinner to folding the laundry to putting the kids to bed. If you are going to reclaim your sanity, you must admit that the overwhelm you feel is at least partly self-inflicted.
For some folks there is a sense that busyness is productivity, even a badge of honor. You feel important when you’re always booked, rushed, scrambling to accomplish one more task. You are deluding yourself because a) multitasking does not exist and b) when you ‘multi-task’ you are actually less efficient even though you feel as if you’re getting more done. Studies in neuroscience now prove that the human brain is capable of focusing on only thing at a time. And the distractions from too many things going on at once hamper our ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information. Everything seems important and urgent.
The solution is to shift your perspective from busyness to significance. Busy doesn’t make you important. Doing the important things you need to do makes you important. And busy keeps you from being authentic with the people in your life. Over the next week, you will have 168 hours. How much of your time will you allocate toward the significant side? Here are some things to consider.
1. Organize your thoughts and write down what’s on your mind. Stop the brain drain that comes from worry.
2. Prioritize. Thinking that if you spend enough time you will “get everything done” is an illusion. You will never be “done” until you are six feet under. Decide what’s important and do that first. Otherwise you may never get to what really matters.
3. Delegate. You think that putting postage on outgoing mail ensures that bills will be sent that day. Or writing the progress report that your dental assistant missed is easier than asking her to do it. Nonsense! Large gains are made by assigning duties to your team. Invest time in clarifying job responsibilities. Give feedback when they do not meet agreed-upon expectations. If you have a task that could be done by an employee, use the next occasion to start training him/her to do it instead of doing it yourself.
4. Manage your energy, the essential ingredient of high performance. Nobody is at their best when exhausted. Get enough restorative sleep. Know your prime hours and use that time for your greatest priorities. Eat nutritional meals and snacks. Strategically use routines that keep you positive and energized. You will be more productive if, several times a day, you step away from mentally challenging tasks for three to five minutes. Get some fresh air, for example, or just look out the window.
5. Practice single-tasking. Silence your phone, turn off your email and try to perform just one task at a time. Start with 15-minute intervals and increase gradually. Redirect yourself if you get distracted. It takes repeated effort but when you give your full attention to the project at hand you will be more accurate and more efficient.
Significance is time meaningfully spent for long-term impact. You can always make more money, but you can never get more time. Spend yours wisely.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
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