Get more done by doing less

career revelyoution Apr 14, 2018

There are many parallels between organizational management, leadership principles and personal development themes and concepts. One commonality relates to the ways in which individuals and organizations gravitate towards ‘busy-ness’ as a standard for productivity and success.

Busy-ness relates to workload, schedules, capacity, quality, etc. This can be measured by how full your Outlook calendar looks, how many meetings you attend, how many projects you have undertaken, how many activities you are involved in, how many widgets you are making, etc.

On the human impact - end of the spectrum you can measure things like;  how little free time you have, how poor your eating habits have become (as a result of your busy-ness), how many personal or family commitments you miss, or how hard it is to fit exercise or self-care into your day.

Where do you spend your time?

How much do you have on your plate, and how successful are you at managing and navigating those things? And more importantly, how do these activities and commitments help you move the dial on achieving your goals while supporting your (or your organization’s) quality of life and values?

Being ‘busy’ is not the same as being effective. Whether at the individual or organizational level. Sometimes you accomplish more by doing less.

As a victim of my own self-induced ‘busy-ness’, I can attest to the negative impacts of over-committing. I saw my inability to let things go, my irrational pride in my insanely busy (yet arguably ineffective) schedule. Ambition clouds our judgment, and the allure of a ‘power schedule’ (and associated/assumed clout) can be intoxicating.

However, I can bear witness to the ultimate fall-out that transpires when the sparkle of busy-ness fades, and the destruction of burn-out and overwhelm take over.

Organizational cultures engender and encourage busy-ness to a significant degree. However, it is the individuals within the organization that adopt this dysfunctional badge of honor, and then add their own masochistic twists of over commitment and pressure to ‘to do it all’.

You create a traffic-jam situation when you have too much going on, as ultimately, neither individual nor organization can ‘do it all’. And this traffic jam of over commitment is a deterrent to keeping things moving, both personally and professionally.

Sometimes you accomplish more by doing less.

Focus. Quality. Strategy. Balance. Health.

All of these things require that you build in enough margin (space)  to your work and commitments, that you (and your organization) are able to function at your highest potential.  Your internal sense of ‘busy-ness is not a good proxy for actual resources required to be either healthy or successful.

This is where the leadership element comes into play. Whether we are talking about an organization, or we are talking about you as an individual, it requires a reality check.  Can you step back from the momentum of your current path, and apply a clear-eyed assessment of its effectiveness and impact?

A strategy to consider

It’s called ‘going to the balcony’. When you go to the balcony, you remove yourself from the crowded dancefloor of either your own life, or your organization’s culture and commitments. Go the balcony and take a purposeful look at everything that is in motion for you right now.

Ask yourself a few key questions about each of your commitments.

  1. Is this activity truly and impactfully helping me achieve my goals?
  2. Is this the best use of my time? Or is there something else I could/should be doing?
  3. Is there someone else who could do this better, or be the more appropriate choice to do it?
  4. Is my involvement (or organization’s involvement) critical to its success?
  5. What is my contribution/result/value from being a part of this commitment?

Are these questions hard to answer? Do they leave you scratching your head,? If so, then that is a very good sign you that your efforts could be better spent elsewhere.

This is about being smart with your time, and your commitments. Learn to take time to be thoughtful about your schedule. Be strategic about where you spend your effort. Don't  just going with the flow of busy-ness without a second thought.

You may be able to do more, by doing less.  Think about it.

For more reading on ‘going to the balcony’, read Leadership on the Line by Ron Heifetz. & Marty Linsky

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