Everyone is busy. I’ve worked in many different industries and in many different roles. I’ve worked with small businesses and large businesses and everything in between. One common theme is that everyone is always busy.
There is always something that needs attention, something that needs to get done. Fires are constantly coming up and most managers use the majority of their time to put the fires out. But there really is a better way.
Putting out fires might seem like a necessary part of our jobs. Problems always are coming up and we have to find ways to fix the problems.
But even if there aren’t a lot of fires, we tend to gravitate towards thinking that we are busy, even if we aren’t. We can always point to something that we have to do or something that we have on our plate.
I remember when I was in college I thought I was busy. I had classes to attend and things to do. I worked a retail job (or two or three) during breaks. I always had stuff to do. I remember thinking that I didn’t even have time to go pay a bill or complete a project for school because I was too busy.
But I really wasn’t. I watched hours and hours of TV a day. I slept in until noon. I spent a lot of time sitting around listening to music or playing guitar. All this did was fill up the time.
The reason I thought I was busy was simple. I had nothing else to compare it to. I always had things on my plate that had to get done and I always had problems to solve. I didn’t want to do any of the work so I would procrastinate and make the excuse that I was too busy.
Years later I started a company. I put in a ton of hours and constantly found myself doing something related to the business. I started to realize how much more capacity I actually had.
Then a family member asked me to help startup a franchise business. We worked tirelessly to get it up and running. At one point we looked at each other and said, “do you realize we haven’t had a day off in 3 months?!” Again I realized I had more capacity that I previously thought.
I started to realize that we have a much greater capacity for work than any of us realize. We can do much more than we are doing right now.
I also realized that being busy doesn’t actually mean being productive. During my busiest times I knew I had to be effective, not just busy. This meant that I had to find a way to be incredibly efficient. I had to make sure the hours I was putting in went further.
So how can we be better at getting things done? First we have to realize we have much more capacity than what we realize. Second we have to work at building the right systems and habits in place to be effective and efficient.
One of the easiest ways to do this for someone who is too busy to work on the systems and habits in their life is to look for the fires and problems that come up. These tend to be recurring, despite the fact that we think they are always some unique problem that came up this one time and never will happen again.
We have to move past that thinking. We have to start to realize that problems manifest over and over if we don’t fix the system involved. Ignoring the systematic elements that lead to the problem means we are simply addressing the symptoms without addressing the cause.
The first question to ask when a problem comes up is, “has this problem happened before in some way or can this problem ever come up again?” If the answer is yes, then you have a system issue not just a one-time problem to fix. Fixing the problem without fixing the system means you will run into this problem again in some fashion.
Now comes the difficult part. Look for a way to fix the problem from ever occurring again. What can you do so that this doesn’t bubble up in the future and present a similar problem? This starts the process of finding systematic solutions.
Once you do this, you will realize that it generally takes more time and effort to fix the system the right way, rather than slapping a quick Band-Aid fix together. The quick fix might alleviate the symptoms temporarily but because the cause is still there, it will inevitably manifest in the form of another problem later.
This is why is it important to understand that we have more capacity. We can work harder to fix the system so that in the future we aren’t so busy. Instead of running around like a chicken with our heads cut off we systematically improve.
This takes patience and hard work but the payoff is huge. When we do this for a while we start realizing that we aren’t just fighting the same fires over and over. We make progress and the fires that come up are new obstacles. This allows us to get better and better over time. It allows us to make progress and improve.
There will always be something to do and some reason to justify that we are busy. But if we start to break through that by fixing things right (addressing the cause and the systematic elements) we will find that we don’t have that issue come up again in the future. This is how we break through the feeling that we never get ahead. This is how we reduce our workload by improving the system.