We are all becoming familiar with the creative entrepreneur. They are a new breed of artist who has switched their focus from pleasing the critic to pleasing the customer. In turn they have come to accept that as much as they are an artist, they are a marketer, a customer service rep, an operations manager… a cash flow forecaster. They understand to get where they want to go they are required to wear a lot of hats. The problem with owning so many hats however is that we often find ourselves spending more time busying ourselves trying on new designs and measuring the hat stand than we do clearing our schedules and doing the actual work. Why wouldn’t we? Busyness has become something worth celebrating.
Technology dares us to do more, faster. So do our bosses. And our customers.
In turn, we dare ourselves. Have a website. Be on Instagram. Have a blog. Build an email list. Please the boss. Make time to waste time. Read a lot. Write a lot. Ship a lot. Master a craft. Network in person. Exercise. Join a mastermind group. Define your brand story. Start a podcast. Grow a YouTube channel. Go overseas. Do the shopping. Visit family. Remember birthdays. Throw a dinner party. Be romantic. Smoke some pot. Be spontaneous. Clean the fridge. Raise a tiny, fragile and highly impressionable human being into a competent adult.
Yes, there is a lot to do. But there will always be a lot to do. Warren Buffett has a lot to do. Everyday he solves problems he has never encountered before. The Dalai Lama has a lot to do as well. Everyday he works to rediscover his faith. The homeless woman on the corner of 1st and Broadway also has a lot to do. Everyday she must pull together pennies to pay for her meals.
We all have a lot to do. We call it “work” and it comes in all forms.
We delegate it to ourselves because it provides us with meaning. It gives us something to work toward. Doing the work constitutes a good hunt for meaning and a good hunt for meaning deserves a celebration. We live for these celebrations, whether they be vacations, dinner with old friends, a joint in the parking lot… whatever it is. A hard earned hunt for meaning deserves a good celebration and a good celebration provides us with purpose. It is this purpose that attributes largely to our happiness.
The problem is that most of us don’t recognise that we are the ones who assign ourselves work (if you think it is your boss, remember that you were the only one in the interview who accepted the job and you are the only one at your desk who chose to stick around).
When we fail to recognise this we do a poor job at delegating work to ourselves. We aren’t sure what we are trying to build or what change we are trying to make in the world so we start a project here and take on a project there. We accept an invite here and pay back a favour there. Before long our plate is overflowing with meaningless tasks.
Some of us set ourselves so much work we never start. Some of us set ourselves so much work we never finish. Most of us sit somewhere in between. Regardless, we are all bogged down by the same problem – too much work.
The antidote to busyness is to separate the work related to our day job with the work related to what we are trying to build.
Our day job is not our work. It is our income. Our work is the stuff we do on the side. The stuff we really care about. The stuff that helps us get ahead, not keep on top of things.
If you are an entrepreneur it may be the skills you are learning on the side to help you reach a new market or produce a new product. If you are a musician it may be open mic performances and recording a demo.
Know what it is by defining what is important to you. Then set a clear objective. A clear objective could be to write a book, do a TED talk or build an email list of 5,000 subscribers. You could have your mind set on achieving Olympic gold, entering the space race or taking over Martin Scorsese’s thrown. It can be anything and it can be as big as you want – just be clear about what it is and choose only one thing. Sure, you can do other things. You can do countless things. You just can’t do them all at the same time.
Take your one thing and list out all of the skills you need to master in order to accomplish your goal. Then take three of those skills and assign an activity or project to each that will help you obtain that skill. With the TED talk example, three skills could be public speaking, networking and topic knowledge. Three activities to help you achieve these could be starting a podcast, joining a speakers group and reading. Then spend 3 hours developing each skill each week. This work doesn’t have to be boring. If you want to be a musician your three tasks could be songwriting, setting up a band YouTube page and playing live. If you want to be an entrepreneur your three tasks could be finding a problem to solve, setting up website and joining a mastermind group.
The important thing is to choose something bigger than yourself and to break it down into bite size pieces.
If a task seems too ambitious to complete in three hours then break it down. For instance, if you are new to podcasting your three tasks could be finding podcast guests, recording podcast intros and editing the podcast. Once you have a handle on these tasks, podcasting can become a task in itself and you can take on two additional tasks. As long as all tasks help to fulfil a common goal then we are doing work.
When you complete a task, switch it for another. Obviously some tasks will never be complete. For instance, a writer will always be writing and always be reading but the third task can change regularly. Switch tasks but never do more than three tasks simultaneously. Doing more doesn’t help us do more – it distracts us. Remember, these are tasks to do in addition to our day job so adding too much will have the opposite effect.
Then be easy on yourself. If you work 40 hours a week and spend 9 hours on skill development you are doing enough. Learn to say no to more, and learn to say stop when the time is up.
Effective people don’t take bigger bites. They train themselves to be in it when they are supposed to be in it, and to be out of it when they are supposed to be out of it.