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The Myth of Being Busy

This past week I got a call from a client. Before I could say a word upon answering my phone he said, “Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. I have been busy, busy, busy!”

Some people are busy all the time. They never slow down, yet they complain to anyone who will listen how exhausted they are from being busy. I get exhausted just listening to them complain.

There is something about being busy that makes us feel important and valuable. A busy person is often perceived as a significant person. That friend who seldom makes it to social gatherings, and when he does stop by it’s for just a minute (and he usually spends the entire time talking about how busy he’s been). After he’s gone, we nod among ourselves and say, “Dave is so busy, his life must be very interesting, and his business must be doing great!”

Some people associate being busy with being productive. Quite frankly, it’s a myth — there is no guaranteed association between being busy and being productive. You can be so busy yet simply move in circles. You may be spending the best part of your day completing mundane activities that can be delegated or even foregone.

As leaders, we have a responsibility of delineating between those things that are important and those things that are urgent. Author Stephen Covey breaks down the difference between urgent and important in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He explains how we spend so much time on the urgent because it makes us feel good and valuable, and leave the important tossed to the side. Urgent flashes and screams for attention, important sits quietly in that corner where you tossed it.

If you are one of those people who constantly complains about being busy, stop right now and take a look at the things on your list. How many are urgent, and how many are important? More importantly, can you point to the productivity that resulted from your hours of running up and down? If you can’t, you are more like the hamster running on a wheel — it gives the hamster something to do, but gets it nowhere.

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