When I started The Clean Space, I was a one-man band. I knew that everything that had to be done, had to be done by me. If I didn’t do it, no one else would.
As the business grew, there was more and more to do. Of course, I recruited a team and delegated some of that stuff, but there was always something that couldn’t be delegated. That only I could do.
At the same time, responsibilities in other areas of my life were growing too. With each new responsibility, there was more and more I wanted to do with my time. More things to do, do, do.
More, more, more.
Do, do, do.
Yet despite this growing list of things that I was getting done each day I had a sense of unease gnawing at me. Guilt almost. Something wasn’t right. My busyness was masking something and I needed to figure it out.
The Busyness Epidemic
Clearly, I’m not alone in my experience.
Google “how to get more done in less time” and you get hit with a plethora of words of wisdom telling you how to do it.
You get loads of life hacks to unlock more efficiency in your life. Secrets to achieving more in each hour of your day.
If you have the time to read them, there are tens of thousands of books on productivity and time management. Legendary books that have stood the test of time (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Getting Things Done) as well as newer titles with a rehashed view of the same problem.
There is even real, academic research that shows that busier people have “better processing speed, working memory, episodic memory, reasoning, and crystallised knowledge”.
There is one overriding message from all this stuff: to succeed you have to be busy. And busy means doing. A lot of doing.
The Source of My Unease
As the demands on my time grew I devoted more and more of my waking hours to executing. Week-to-week I would be getting through a huge volume of tasks. I was achieving a lot.
So why the unease?
Eventually, I figured out that despite doing lots of things I wasn’t sure if it was they were the right things.
In the excitement of the day-to-day, I was failing to take the time to think. I was failing to question whether what I was doing was really right for my business. More importantly, whether what I was doing was really right for me.
We all have the same amount of time. The challenge is not to fit in lots of tasks – it’s to fit in the right ones. Tweet This!
Identifying What’s “Right”
Most of us prioritise individual tasks in the heat of battle. There are plenty of frameworks for looking at a list of tasks on a to-do list and picking the most important one.
But how do you know that to-do list has the right things on it in the first place?
My approach now has two broad steps:
- A macro-review
- A micro-handle
My Quarterly Macro-Review
Once every three months or so, I zoom out of my day-to-day focus and start thinking about which broad areas I want or need to be spending my time in. The objective isn’t to think about all the things I have to get done but more to think about what broad goals I have.
I try to identify the things I personally want or need to achieve, what the people that rely on me need and what the business itself needs. I try to dream big. And I pay close attention to what my gut is telling me.
The key for me is to realise that I only have one set of 24 hours in my day. This thinking can’t be done with a ‘work’ hat on. Or a ‘personal’ hat on. It has to be considered in a balanced way across my whole life.
Eventually, a picture starts to emerge of what my head and heart feel are the most important things right now across my whole life. A landscape of goals to which I can devote my time.
My Weekly Micro-Handle
Once I have my macro landscape set out, I then start to get a handle on things at a micro level – i.e. what are the specific things currently nagging at me to get done?
Each week, I get it all down in one big list. Generally, I start with a brain dump but then top up the list after clearing my emails, looking back at handwritten notes, digging out all business cards I’ve collected, and pulling together all the papers on my desk. I also think about the goals themselves and how I could make progress on each of them.
What’s important to me is that nothing is left in my brain. Everything must be out on that list.
I then systematically work through that list and figure out how each activity fits in with my macro-goals. If it doesn’t fit, I don’t do it. I remove it from the list.
What I’m left with is a long list of things I could be doing with my time for me to prioritise as normal.
Only now, I know that each item on that long list is directly linked to my life goals.
What This New Approach Gives Me
The discipline of getting a macro-view of what’s important and then keeping a weekly handle on my micro-level tasks requires a significant amount of time and brain power. Currently, about half a day a week.
But what it gives me is worth every ounce of effort.
I have realised that the gnawing feeling of unease was a worry. A worry that I wasn’t quite making the best use of my time. I knew deep down that some of the tasks I was doing weren’t actually of value to me.
I was just being busy for being busy’s sake.
My new approach gives me a greater confidence that the way I’m spending my time has a direct link to my broader life goals. To my personal fulfilment.
That gnawing feeling does sometimes reappear. But when it does, I now know it’s time to go back to that blank piece of paper.
Next time: in next month’s blog I’ll share the specifics of what changed after my first macro-review. Which activities I stopped doing, and which I started. Subscribe here to make sure you get the next instalment…