In Part 1 I spoke about the various costs of being busy; but also faced the reality that there will be times when it is difficult to avoid.
Here are 5 tips and tactics that may help you in these times.
1. The Eisenhower matrix
A very simple tool used to divide tasks into 4 categories based upon the combinations of high or low Importance and Urgency. This tool has appeared countless times, including Steven Coveys best seller, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People under Habit 3; ‘Put first things first’. It sounds simple, and it often is, but if you are frenetically busy it is a discipline that can easily slip. There are various labels used for the 4 categories but I find Dr. John Demartini's version easy to remember: Do it, Delegate it, Diarise it or Ditch it. Search for it online and see if it helps.
2. Manage your willpower
Every decision you make requires willpower. Unfortunately, in the short term, willpower is a finite resource – hence the success of impulse sales items at supermarkets and coffee shops. They get you when your defenses are down. Knowing this allows you to arrange tasks such that you attack the harder ones early in the day, instead of being drawn into more tedious tasks. Revisit the ‘Do it’ list above – which one is the most ambiguous or complex? That's where you start. A suggestion here is to use the Eisenhower matrix at the end of each day to identify the first item for the next day … its one less decision you need to make before you start.
3. Focused attention
I mentioned in Part 1 some of the costs of trying to multi-task. Have you ever noticed the volume and quality of work you achieve when there are no distractions? When you are allowed to truly immerse yourself in one task. Cal Newport’s book Deep Work looks at a number of examples of how you can apply this, citing extreme examples such as an author who recognised that he worked best on planes. Pushed for a deadline he flew return to Tokyo and completed the book during the flights. When, where and how do you do your best deep thinking? Have you even thought about it before? How can you best take advantage of it?
4. Floss your brain
The same brain region you activate when you intentionally draw your focus to your senses is involved in a long list of very beneficial skills and attributes. They include: fear modulation, attuned communication, empathy, emotional regulation and morality. For a deeper dive into this take a look at Dr. Dan Siegel's book The Mindful Brain. Increasing evidence shows that this capacity of your brain can be enhanced through regular routines of intentionally bringing your attention to sensing the present moment. The great news is … it only takes seconds. You can pay attention to anything – it’s just about noticing, not judging. Isn’t it worth 'flossing' your brain? You brush your teeth ...
5. Capitalise on stress
Studies have shown that people who believe they perform better under stress are generally less physiologically impacted by it. It’s just one of the mindset tools you can use. Another is to use stressful situations to build your capacities, much like weight lifting. Gains require stress and recovery. Following stressful tasks you should create a practice of looking back to acknowledge the resources you drew upon and work out how to gain even more from these capacities in the future. Reviewing ways you succeeded builds self-efficacy (a major component of self-esteem) which is key to performance and resilience.
I really, seriously hope there was something of value in that for you!
Please feel free to add your tips in the comments below.
In Part 3 I will look at the more organisational and managerial aspects of ‘Taking Care of Busy-ness’ …