Too busy to be better?


How many times in the past week has someone told you they’re too busy?

Maybe even you’ve found yourself saying that all too often?

Too busy to get to the gym.  Too busy to meet a friend for lunch.  Too busy to cook a proper meal during the week.  Too busy to take time out for planning.  Too busy putting out fires to spend any time on fire prevention.  Too busy to get your new website done.

It has become a much overused phrase, way too much.

The real danger is we’re too busy to be better.

So much of our working week is taken up with stuff.  A manager’s job is to get things done.  But the job is also to make things better.  What’ve you done today to improve the way you do things?

There’s things that need to be done because they are an immediate need.  There’s things that need to be done because they are significant.

Breathing is a pretty immediate need and it has considerable significance.  In fact let’s do an experiment – let’s try not doing it for a bit.  Go on start now …..

How did it go?  I got to 40 seconds.  To be honest for a bit of that time I was thinking about the other things that I should be doing.  For example that was 40 seconds during which this blog wasn’t getting written.  Once I got past 30 seconds my mind didn’t wander too much.  I was pretty focussed on the importance of my next breath.

You just can’t be too busy not to breathe.  It’s of immediate significance.  Fortunately most of the time we are able to do it while doing something else.

All your activities fall into the four possible combinations of immediacy and significance:

  1. no immediate need and insignificant
  2. immediate but insignificant
  3. no immediate need but significant
  4. immediate and significant

How much of your day is spent on activity which is immediate and significant (mode 4)?

How creative are you in that mode?  Does innovation flourish when requirements are immediate and significant?  Is that the time that you explore new ways of working, new technologies?  Or do you stick to the tried and tested ways (that may even be outdated) which got you to where you are?  Here’s the news, the really smart folk know that the methods that got them to where they are won’t get them where they’re going.

No doubt, we get things done when in mode 4, but sometimes it’s just survival.

How much of your day is spent on things that have no immediate need but are of great significance (mode 3)?  Because they don’t require completion right now you can be a bit more thoughtful, creative, experimental, expansive, reflective even, truly productive.

Often the really significant stuff gets put off in favour of the really immediate.  In the meantime the really significant stuff that wasn’t immediate last week has become immediate and we execute that in our good old immediate and significant (sometimes even headless chicken) mode.  In time, mode 3 becomes mode 4.

Significant with no immediate need (mode 3) is where high quality improvement activity comes from.  It allows us to rebalance our priorities and is the key to short, medium and long term success.

How much time do you spend on stuff that’s immediate but insignificant (mode 2)?  Really, that much?  Oh, I see, it’s important to someone else and they can get you fired?  Truly successful people know their own priorities and those of their various stakeholders and they have been able to get some alignment between those.

How about insignificant stuff with no immediate need (mode 1)?  Yeah, I thought so.  I don’t have too much time for that either.  Be selective about how you spend your time.

Truly successful people don’t spend much time on insignificant stuff.

Spend the rest of your day logging, if you can, how your day spreads across these four modes.  If you’re too busy to log it then just make sure that you consciously raise your awareness of both immediacy and significance throughout your day.

It’s not just about work.  We should be spending quality time on significant pursuits with people who enrich us – to make us better, fitter, more interesting and consequently more successful human beings.

Let’s be more significant, let’s make time to be better.


Ronnie Malcolm

About Ronnie Malcolm

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