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Beware The Lure of Busyness
by Tom Goodman
May 9, 2013

If I'm not watching myself, I can let busyness pass for business.

Busyness gives you the satisfaction of action while robbing you of any real production.  It's finishing the news magazine article when you should really be writing your report.  It's organizing your to-do list when you should really be punching things off it.  It's even found in doing something that you hired office staff to do just so you can avoid what you were hired to do.

In The Phantom Tollbooth, Milo comes across the Terrible Trivium, a "demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit."  Milo and his friends find themselves moving a huge pile of sand from one place to another, using a tweezer to grasp each grain, as they fall under the Terrible Trivium's spell:

If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you'll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult.  You just won't have the time.  For there's always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing....

Are you in liege to the Terrible Trivium?  The iDoneThis blog collected the advice of several time management consultants into four steps to freedom:

  1. Do an "attention audit."  Across a week or two, write down the amount of time you actually spend on various tasks.  The vague sense that you're misspending your time is not enough to provoke change.  Change is possible only when you see the gap between what you want to accomplish and what you're actually doing.
  2. Change your language.  Laura Vanderkam says:

    Instead of saying "I don't have time" try saying "it's not a priority," and see how that feels.  Often, that's a perfectly adequate explanation.  I have time to iron my sheets, I just don't want to.  But other things are harder.  Try it: "I'm not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it's not a priority."  "I don't go to the doctor because my health is not a priority."  If these phrases don't sit well, that's the point.  Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice.  If we don't like how we're spending an hour, we can choose differently.
  3. Press pause.  Brené Brown recommends letting go of "exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth" and thus discovering what matters:
    [W]hen we make the transition from crazy-busy to rest, we have to find out what comforts us, what really refuels us, and do that.  We deserve to not just put work away and be in service of someone else.  What's really meaningful for us?  What do we want to be doing?
  4. Do less and feel more joy.  The opposite of the fear of missing out, according to Anil Dash, is the joy of missing out.  Isn't that a liberating thought?  Pay attention to what's in front of you, and you'll gain control and find joy.

Don't let the Terrible Trivium win today!


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