Words by Tess Robinson, Smack Bang Designs
Occasionally, I look at my calendar and I want to shave my head, bash my car with an umbrella and generally descend into the madness of Britney circa 2007. You all know the feeling: there’s client meetings to be had, staff training to be co-ordinated, deadlines to be defeated, Skype calls to be awkwardly participated in and puppy preschool to attend. Your calendar seemingly begins to grow additional limbs, features and characters you didn’t yet realise existed, and your cortisol levels immediately begin to rise.
It’s times like these that I really need to focus on increasing my productivity, and decreasing my ‘busyness’, ie. returning some level of sanity to my life.
It is so easy to remain busy at work – I often joke to my staff that I could actually work every hour of every day or every week and still not accomplish everything that needed to be done. But does accomplishing your ‘busy’ tasks really add value to your overall strategy? Does ‘busy’ mean ‘productive’? In my experience, it doesn’t. Often being busy is actually just being in fire fighting mode, with no strategy or structure to it. Things that really catapult the business into the next dimension are not generally items that I can tick from my daily to-do list. They require much more time, thought, energy and psychological bandwidth. It’s hard finding the time to dedicate to these types of tasks, but in the end, these are the exercises that actually save you time in the long run.
Being busy doesn’t equate to producing results.
The ‘busy vs productive’ battle is an ongoing and incessant one to conquer. But if you’ve come to the realisation that you’re simply tired of being tired, then keep your eyes open long enough to read the below tips on how to master it all.
1. GET YOURSELF A GOOD TEAM.
It’s not only naive, but also slightly insane to think that just one individual is capable of running a successful organisation completely on their own. Even the most independent ‘solopreneurs’ have a robust network of cheerleaders to buoy them along. My team are as supportive as a top of the line Lay-Z-Boy leather recliner. The whole damn lot of them are incredible individuals, but as a team we function like a family and work our butts off to be productive and efficient. They are passionate about what we do, manage to keep me focused, love working hard to create a happy and fun workplace, always pick up my slack, are great communicators and hard workers, and are all 100% invested in their craft. A busy task list doesn’t throw them; rather, they are dedicated to producing the best outcomes, no matter how long the ‘to-do’ list. For this, I will be forever grateful. Productivity can literally make or break a company, and a workplace that is packed to the rafters with a below average team has the potential to sink deeper than any 2015 Adam Sandler movie.
2. STOP DOING FOR THE SAKE OF DOING.
I believe the worst epidemic that our modern world faces is the disease of being constantly ‘busy’. We are all addicted to filling our schedules and simply ‘doing’ for the sake of ‘doing’. I am writing this blog post from a beautiful cliffside villa in Bali, and I’d like to come clean… the first few days in Bali were meant to be 100% holiday – no screens, no work. But I struggled, like a junkie looking for a fix; my fingers itched to get back to the keyboard and my brain craved some form of stimulation. It was a real challenge to switch off and just chill.
We all (including my workaholic self) need to take a good hard look at ourselves at ask, ‘Am I working because I want to? Am I working because I’m being productive? Or am I just working because it is so deeply ingrained in my psyche, that to not work feels uncomfortable?’ Ask the question, make the changes.
3. TAKE OFF YOUR BUSY BADGE.
Being busy can sometimes make you feel important. As your calendar fills up, you feel more valuable, more valid, as though the world actually needs you. You wear ‘busy’ like a badge to show off to your friends and claim that you’re “up to your neck” doing this and doing that – bragging about how much the world around you relies on you to keep it spinning.And I get it, with only 24 hours in each day and unlimited demands on those hours, it’s easy to fill your schedule and allocate all 24 of those hours with constant busyness. But this doesn’t mean that you should.To brag about being busy, or to associate busy with feeling valid is just as ridiculous as claiming that you can levitate whilst saying the alphabet backwards. The idea of being busy, busy, busy at a constant and rapturous pace is simply not sustainable or even productive. You work harder, not smarter, and eventually the wheels will falls off if you don’t figure out how to balance your work life and home life.
4. POP YOUR ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ ON.
I love the saying ‘Go hard or go home’, and it’s fair to say I live by it quite religiously. I am in 100% agreement with the current ‘mindfulness wave’ that’s permeating our culture at the moment. I believe that when you’re working, you should go all out and hit those home runs – do what you’ve got to do. Then, schedule yourself some time each day and on the weekends to stay far, far away from work. You deserve a break and your brain does too.
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” – Steve Jobs
5. GET OUT THE EGG TIMER.
I’m not sure about you, but meetings fill up a large part of my week. Although I love meeting with like-minded people (it’s actually number three on my list of job perks!) they do have a tendency to go much longer than I originally anticipate. I used to just grin and bear it, and then stay back into the darker hours to catch-up on my actual work. Nowadays, however, I’ve learnt to be more intentional with my meeting times in order to get tasks done and stay on track for the remainder of my day.
6. KNOW WHEN YOU WORK YOUR BEST.
If you have a range of different tasks to be completed throughout your day, plan it out so that you’re working on each task when you’re at your best. For me, I have to write blog posts first thing in the morning. If I write in the afternoon after the stress of the day has got me all fired up, I’ll write like Arnie Schwarzenegger speaks – erratically short, mechanically direct and lacking in melody or empathy. However, getting stuck into invoicing and accounts is something that I can do with only a half-filled engine as it doesn’t require so much creative output and therefore I can do it in the afternoon with the help of my arvo cuppa, shoes off and tunes very much on.
7. EAT THE FROG FOR BREAKFAST.
My business mentor, Pru Chapman, once told me to ‘eat the frog for breakfast’. Not having ever heard the saying before in my life, I thought she’d either; a). Had a tab of acid whilst I wasn’t looking, b). Was having a very chic-Parisian moment, or c). Had yet another business tactic up her sleeve for me. Of course, being the gun that she is, it was the latter. I now begrudgingly ‘eat the frog for breakfast’ every single bloody day. If there’s something uncomfortable, highly-challenging, or seriously annoying on my task list, rather than resisting it all day, I do it first thing in the morning. I grit my teeth and just get it over with – that way I don’t carry the feeling with me all day.
8. MULTI-TASKING IS A LIE.
Multi-tasking gives you wrinkles. I don’t know that for sure, but I do know that it reduces your productivity, increases your stress levels and makes you feel about ten years older at the end of the day. I believe that it is better to do a few things extraordinarily well rather than doing fifty things poorly. Overcommitting and spreading yourself too thin is the key recipe for disaster and exhaustion. And if there’s one lesson I’ve learned the hard way, it’s that trying to please everyone doesn’t please anyone. I’ll add that to my collection of ‘sad realisations of being an adult’.
9. STOP AND REFLECT.
Some people claim they work well in a high-stress environment. I’m not one of them. My productivity is at an all time high and when I’m blissfully relaxed. So, I make sure that whenever and wherever possible, I take time out. Time to stop and smell the roses, time to do absolutely nothing, and time to reflect. Without reflection, we cannot make regular assessments of our progress and productivity. At the risk of sounding incredibly lazy, when doing tasks that I know are not worthy of my time, I often ask myself – is there someone else that can do this task? Is there a machine, or type of software, or some kind of R2-D2 robot that can complete this task instead of me? It always good to have a ‘Tess to stop doing list’ on your desktop so that you can eventually start to do what bosses do best and delegate those tasks onwards.