Are You Too Busy To Get Anything Done? (3 reasons & 4 cures)

February is Time Management month so, as a subject matter expert, I need to do a post about it to share knowledge and maybe even drum up an interested prospect. Of course it’s March but I certainly intended to have gotten this done weeks ago! Sound familiar? Managing time and accomplishment is a common challenge to almost all our clients and it’s pretty characteristic of executives, office workers, homemakers and weekend project doers, myself definitely included. Why is it such a battle? Here’s 3 reasons and 3 remedies…if you aren’t too busy maybe you’ll read this and accomplish more. If not today I’m sure you’ll get around to it.

“I’m a very honest person…except to myself.”

We tell ourselves all kinds of lies. When it comes to productivity we can be very convincing about how busy we are. We can rationalize away how lazy we can be. Some challenges we tackle and some we make excuses to avoid because we might not enjoy the work, might not like the answer or just don’t want to deal with the baggage that can accompany a given task. We tell ourselves, “I’ll get to it,” and surely that is our intention. How long it stays an intention rather than an action is where the problem lies. The cure:

PRIORITY: Establishing priority is something we often think we are doing but it can become a moving target, a shifting ambition or prey to procrastination. This can be because we lack depth in associating why something is important. The more critical the association for you the more likely you are to consummate the needed actions. Start with your life priorities and put them on a continuum and write them down. If you have a child who gets hurt you don’t have to be told you drop what you are doing and deal with an instant priority but life presents a lot more gray than black and white. Establish your priorities with an understanding of 3 why’s. Put those questions against each item and you will reveal what is truly important to you. It goes without explanation here that creating goals based on your priorities is the next iteration.

“I make great plans but it’s those damn interruptions that keep throwing me off.”

Guess what, you are in control of only a portion of your life whether you are the biggest control freak or champion at laissez-faire. That may disjoin ten percent or ninety percent of your best laid plans but too often we allow distractions for lots of meager reasons. It can be an excuse we come to embrace, it might make us feel important or more common, we haven’t drawn the ground rules for how, when and what can interrupt us. The solution:

FOCUS: Don’t kid yourself that you are some kind of multi-tasking whiz. You’re not. The human brain is not capable of doing two things at the same time so at best you’ll play ping pong with your actions and the sum total of your accomplishments when the supporting actions are scattered is almost always less than if you work in completed segments. That doesn’t mean every task has to be end to end accomplishment but you should designate key chunks that should not be broken in effort. The next challenge is establishing when and why you can be interrupted. Whether it is closing your office door or putting on your cubicle headphones you can signal when an interruption is unwanted and you can also ask the interrupter if you can follow up in some specific time so you minimize the interruption. Try it, people respect it if you are sincere and polite. This also includes curing the email reflex, that desire to look at any email or text as soon as it pings. Willful interruptions are just as distracting as outside ones.

“There’s not enough time in the day for everything on my list.”

A common belief is that by creating a “To Do” list we are prioritizing and focusing on what needs to be done. Too often the first thing done on that list is what will take the least time or effort so we can feel good about crossing something off the list and making it shorter. The list may be thought out and organized but it is missing a major element–time. Others treat the list as what they will do in between their regular job chores and guess how much on the list gets done that way? The trick:

BUCKETS: Instead of looking at all you have to do on a recurring list sort your behaviors to do based on your aforementioned priorities and classify them as either “Must do,” “Should do,” or “Could do.” Inform your prioritization of looking at the consequences of accomplishing, or not. When the impact is identified we are less likely to procrastinate, or if we do the problem can’t be blamed on time. Your high consequence items go into “Must do.” Rather than a simple To Do list these items need to be placed on your calendar, given a time to complete, and a clearly defined desired outcome. Your “should do’s” are the things of slightly less consequence but they are still significant and have a high likelihood of becoming a “must” to get to your goals. After identifying should items move them to must in a time that fits your flow. Could do items would be nice to do but not a priority. If you can’t move them up to the should bucket in some time then they need to move to the trash bucket. Thinking of what we could be doing rather than what we must be doing creates a sense of neglect and missed opportunity.

SMARTER GOALS: Having a Goals process is nearly synonymous with high achievers. Too often, even SMART (look it up if you don’t know the meaning) Goals go unrealized because they aren’t easily enough translated into necessary behaviors, frequency and timing. Break down a big goal into something that can be timed to be accomplished in a week, or even a day. Building up a series of small accomplishments not only adds up to a big one but it keeps you in a state of satisfaction for doing what is important and recognizing that you build a building brick by brick and not all at once. You can insure much of your achievement by sharing Accountability. Get a partner and hold each other to your planned accomplishments. It’s amazing how motivating it can be not to have to say, “I didn’t get that done because…” again and again.

You can get all this done to be more productive, more accomplished and feel better about yourself…if you have the time, that is.

For more on productivity, time management, leadership and sales see or follow Tom here or on Twitter @TomFoxTrainer.

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