How to escape the 'cult of busyness' through systematic elimination

  • Busyness is a form of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness. – Tim Kreider

    We live in an era when busyness is seen as a virtue, a desirable condition of life, a necessity in order to succeed, and doing less as Lazy, self-indulgent and inappropriate.

    Nobody cares if you spend 8 hours every day running about doing useless, unimportant stuff, as long as you’re running about.

    But try reducing your work time to 2 hours a day doing the meaningful stuff that propels you forward, eyebrows will be raised, “what did she say she does for a living again? Sure, she’s not into drugs?

    And so, we feel guilty when we’re not busy.

    We chose to do things just for the sake of it. Either because this gives us a sense of comfort that we’re working hard and doing all we can in order to succeed or because we feel the need to fit into the image of a busy person as it is expected of us.

    Most things on our to-do are things that we believe we should be doing, not things that are critically important.

    We become overwhelmed and stressed out and despite everything, we still feel frustrated and stuck.

    This is the point we decide, perhaps we’re just not doing enough.

    So we hunt for the latest productivity tips, techniques or technology with one sole purpose in mind; to squeeze in as much as we can within the 24 hours bracket that we have, not to free up the time to live.

    We try to be what I call efficiently busy

    Putting the cart before the horse

    In the first place, most of what we do doesn’t count in terms of moving us forward. And then we try to do as much of these things in as short a time as possible.

    For most of us, this is what being productive means and it's like dipping ourselves deeper into a smelly mud.

    In his book, the Four-Hour Work Week, Time Ferris wrote:

    What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it, efficiency is still important, but it is useless unless applied to the right things.

    And this quote summarizes everything I’m trying to say.

    My point is, forget everything about productivity until you’re sure you’re completely focused and everything on your to-do is directly leading you towards some predetermined goal.

    Anything short of this is putting the cart before the horse.

    Just as a wood carver chisels out all excess wood to bring out the shape of a piece before getting down to the real business of smoothing it out, so must you hold your hammer in hand and ruthlessly eliminate all the life suckers on your to-do; the ones messing up your life and overwhelming your soul.

    Then and only then can you get down to the business of being productive.

    The Pareto rule of systematic elimination

    But how do you go about this business of elimination? There’s a method to it.

    The Pareto rule if applied to your to-do goes like this: only 20% of the items on it are giving you 80% result. The rest 80% are the life suckers that gives only 20% result. Systematic Elimination means identifying those 80% and getting rid of them.

    All it takes is asking yourself some nail-on-the-head questions:

    • Take a long critical look at your to do for the day and ask yourself, what 20% of the items on it are directly relevant to my goals? What constitutes the 80% I’ve invented to feel busy?
    • Dig into the areas of your business that mostly constitute your to-do items. E.g. marketing, product creation, skills and knowledge acquisition, customer service etc, and ask yourself the golden question: what 20% of my effort is leading to 80% result? What are the 80% that are wasting my time? Repeat the same for every macro item. The purpose of this is to get super clear on what you must be doing and what should even make it to your to do in the first place.
    • Develop the habit of asking yourself, am I just doing things or getting things done? When you catch yourself merely doing things for the sake of doing, pinch yourself on the nose and get back on track.

    Laser-like focus is the key to growth

    When you disavail yourself of the need to be busy, to fill every waking moment doing something (whether it counts or not), the result is a result-oriented focus and clarity that leads to growth.

    You feel happier, healthier and less burdened because you know you’re making progress. You can see your plans unravelling and your dreams coming true.

    What’s more, you can now free up time to do the things you love, recharge your batteries and connect with people outside of your working environment.

    And the ironical part is, it is at this point that you feel you're most productive.

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