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Why Being “Too Busy” Is The Biggest Lie We’ve Been Told

Why Being “Too Busy” Is The Biggest Lie We’ve Been Told

Have you ever said to yourself, “I’m too busy”? “I’m too busy to meet this person…” “I’m too busy to take care of my health…” “I’m too busy to learn a language…” We take in a big sigh, and even lead ourselves to believe that being “too busy” is something worth celebrating. I’ve certainly been guilty of this many times over.

In a world of rapid change, infinite access, and countless distractions, our society has built a culture around celebrating “keeping busy”, for the sake of… well, keeping busy. But there’s a massive difference between activity and performance. We can be efficient in a lot of things in our lives, without ever being effective. 

Here’s why telling ourselves that we’re “too busy” can lead to a negative cycle.

We Reap What We Sow

Have you ever bought a new car, and suddenly you start to notice all the cars that are identical to the one you just bought? Or maybe you got a new dog, and you start paying attention to all the dogs that are walking across the sidewalk.

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It’s not that the manufacturers of your car suddenly decided to release more models in your city, nor did the population of dogs hit a spike. It means that your Reticular Activating System is at work. Without boring you with the scientific details (TL;DR right?), your RAS is the automatic mechanism inside your brain that tells you what to pay attention to, and what not to. Think of it as a filter for the brain.

As bland as the name may sound, it’s an incredibly important part of our brain since it’s the gatekeeper that determines how we think – consciously or subconsciously. One of the greatest examples of the RAS at work is when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954, which was claimed to be impossible at the time. A year after he broke the record, over a dozen people also beat the record, including high school students.

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, MAY 3-4 - FILE - In this May 6, 1954, file photo, British Athlete Roger Bannister breaks the tape to become the first man ever to break the four minute barrier in the mile at Iffly Field in Oxford, England. With the 60th anniversary approaching, Bannister, now 85, is reliving those four minutes that still endure as a seminal moment in sports history. He has a new autobiography out and is marking the anniversary with a series of events at Oxford, where he set the record on a cinder track all those years ago. (AP Photo/File)

    The reason why we bring up RAS is because there’s two ways to control our brain:

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    1. Consciously: By purposefully setting goals, affirmations, and visualizing our goals, we can create a filter that enables our brain to focus on anything that will get us closer to our goals.
    2. Sub-consciously: By telling ourselves “we don’t have time”, our brain is going to find every reason to justify why we don’t have time.

    Since our brain will eventually believe whatever message we feed it, telling ourselves that we’re “too busy” only becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Being Busy Is Not Being Productive

    I would often find myself busy scrambling to finish my to-do list for the week. It’s only when I take a step back to reflect that I realize there were only 3 things on that list that made an actual impact to my end goals.

    So let’s talk about the key differences between being busy vs. being productive (effective):

    • Busy people have many priorities, productive people have few big priorities.
    • Busy people focus on action, productive people focus on clarity before taking action.
    • Busy people multitask, productive people focus on one task at a time.
    • Busy people react to emails immediately, productive people carve out a portion of the day to answer all of their emails at once.
    • Busy people talk about how they’re “too busy”, productive people make time for what’s important.

    Did you say “yes” to more of the busy category or the productive category?

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    The truth is, all of us have the time to do anything we want: spend time with family, learn a language, go to the gym, cook a healthy meal, etc. We just can’t do everything we want.

    We should also consider the Pareto’s Law: In nearly anything we do in our lives, only ~20% of our inputs (i.e. activities, tasks, money, time) will deliver ~80% of our desired results.

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      This means that if you’re

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      • Learning a new language: focus on one solution that will give you 80% of your desired result (i.e. reaching conversation fluency)
      • Building a business: focus on the few vital features that deliver 80% of satisfaction to your customers
      • Getting in shape: focus on the few exercises that can workout 80% of your body

      So how do we put this into action? A solution that has been working incredibly well for me is asking one simple question…

      What’s Your ONE Thing?

      In the bestselling book, The ONE Thing, Gary Keller describes it as “the ‘one thing’ you can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary.” You can apply this concept to your business life, personal life, physical health, finances, etc.

      Jason_Hardy_personalBuckets

        As simple as this exercise may sound, it’s one of the most difficult questions I ask myself. Essentially, you’re forcing yourself to say “no” to the good opportunities, so that you can make way for the opportunities that can change your life. Sometimes those lines are blurred, but by simply asking the right question: you can stop being “too busy”, and start being productive.

        The Takeaway

        Ask yourself: are you saying “yes” to too many things? If you are, it may be time to reprioritize your goals and activities. For the rest of the day (or week if you can), try approaching anything that comes at you by asking: is this my “ONE Thing?”

        If the answer is “no”, then move on. Remember, saying “no” to the mediocre will open up the opportunity to say “yes” to the extraordinary.

        More by this author

        Sean Kim

        Sean is the founder and CEO of Rype, a language learning app. He's an entrepreneur and blogger.

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        Published on January 7, 2021

        How To Train Yourself When You Lack Attention To Details

        How To Train Yourself When You Lack Attention To Details

        Some people see the trees for the forest, and some see only the forest, meaning they lack strong attention to detail. But even if you’re one of the people who take a macro rather than a micro view, true professionalism requires balancing both.

        If focusing on the fine points is not your forte, you will benefit from training yourself to pay attention to details. You will profit by saving yourself time, effort, money, and credibility.

        Why Training Yourself in Attention to Details Pays Off

        You add value to your organization when you make the effort to ensure that you performed your work thoroughly and effectively. This is why job postings often list “attention to details” among the required skills.

        When you present your supervisor or client with well-completed, high-quality work the first time, it maximizes your value and minimizes wasted time. Detail-oriented people are also more adept at catching mistakes that could lead to costly blunders.

        Moreover, attention to detail is an indicator of possessing other in-demand employee qualities, such as organization, thoroughness, and focus. In some professions, such as accounting, engineering, medical research, and more, you can only excel if you have trained yourself to pay attention to details.

        In other professions, possessing strong attention to detail is the very quality that will get you promoted to a position where you will be asked to consider the big picture.

        Finally, if you are the “go-to” details person, everyone else on the team can relax a bit. They know the project is in good hands and will likely throw you more projects as a reward. This will ultimately lead to your advancement.

        3 Important Aspects of Becoming More Detail-Oriented

        Here are the 3 important things you need to learn if you want to remedy your lack of attention to detail:

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        1. Respect deadlines
        2. Understand the work-flow plan
        3. Build in time to mess up

        1. Respect Deadlines

        Deadlines lend all projects a finish line. One smart idea is to take the given deadline and work backward from it, calculating when your piece of the project is due. Then, if you stick to the proscribed schedule for completing the mini-projects that you have, you will never miss a deadline.

        One important note on this: It is smarter to stick to the deadline and turn in work that merits a “B+” than to blow the deadline with “A” work. Chances are, through revision and suggested changes from others on the team, you can bring up your B+ work to an A later. But if you disregard deadlines, you will lose the respect of your boss and fellow teammates.

        2. Understand the Work-Flow Plan

        Your team is developing work in conjunction with other teams who have projects and deadlines of their own. When you grasp the whole work-flow plan, you may be able to either add insight to the greater project or to your own smaller piece of it that others at the firm will consider valuable.

        3. Build in Time to Mess Up

        You can expect that “what can go wrong will go wrong.” Don’t overpromise on deadlines. Something likely will mess up, but when it does if you built in the time to fix it, those around you won’t freak out.

        Chances are, you already give your attention to several details. Take heart. You can do this! You can overcome your lack of attention to detail and become more detail-oriented.

        For starters, consider this: Most people take the time and put in extra effort into the activities or undertakings that matter to them most. Training yourself to become more detail-oriented can mean adopting a similar pattern of behavior.

        Apply the same attention you give to your appearance. Are you a meticulous dresser? Do you pay attention to how you pair patterns and colors, and how you accessorize a particular outfit?

        This is the same system to use when you lack attention to detail with your work. Give every item careful consideration so that each one contributes to the perfectly pieced-together whole.

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        Assemble the ingredients the way you do when you cook. Cooking and baking from scratch require close attention to details as you measure and add each ingredient in sequence, and you time everything so that the meal comes together at the same time.

        Similarly, your work product requires you to gauge whether all the ingredients have been added and that your final product is delivered on time.

        Organize your business network like you do your social contacts. If you follow a broad base of friends and acquaintances on social media, you can apply similar skills to stay up-to-date on details associated with business acquaintances.

        When you meet somebody who could be influential to your career or a resource for improving your skills, follow that person on social media. Respond to their posts to keep the lines of communication flowing.

        12 Tips to Help You if You Lack Attention to Detail

        Teaching yourself to take note of important details involves sharpening your perceptions and thinking ahead. The following tips will help you adopt these practices. Master these habits when training yourself to become detail-oriented.

        1. Learn to Listen Well

        You will pick up relevant information and needed nuance when you apply the skills of active listening. In conversations, train yourself to make eye contact, give your undivided attention to the speaker, and ask pertinent follow-up questions.

        Training yourself to pay better attention to details in conversations includes learning to fully concentrate on what others have to say. If you find it hard, there’s no harm in taking notes on what they say.

        2. Pay Attention to Social Cues

        Make a point of noticing body language and facial expressions that provide insights into how others perceive a situation. Social cues offer details that give you an understanding of how words and actions impact others. The infamous character Michael Scott of the television show “The Office” epitomizes the consequences of not paying attention to others’ body language.[1]

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        3. Follow Rules

        Rules and protocols usually come about from lessons learned and are put in place to avoid further mishaps—whether from a safety or efficiency standpoint. If you’re given step-by-step procedures to follow, check them off as you go. Also, return to the rules at the project’s end just to make sure you adhered to them all.

        4. Take Notes

        Note-taking is a way to boost your retention and gives you something to refer back to when you need to keep track of pertinent details. You will also heighten your focus as you listen for relevant information. Review your notes shortly after the meeting or conversation and highlight the content that you intend to apply.

        5. Prioritize What Needs Your Attention Now

        When you have a full slate of work that demands your attention, take a few moments to sort assignments from most to least urgent. Keep a calendar, spreadsheet, or project planning software up-to-date with schedules and deadlines to help you stay organized.

        As you tackle each urgent assignment, give it your full attention so no details are missed. Give yourself ample time—especially if you tend to be someone who waits until the last minute—as rushing can make you overlook important details.

        6. Have a Detail-Oriented Assistant Check Your Work

        If you lack attention to detail, then it makes sense to seek help from someone detail-oriented. If you have this option, take advantage of it. Two sets of eyes are better than one. Just be sure to credit your assistant for their help once the project is completed.

        7. Learn the Rules of Writing Well

        English is a difficult language, and grammar, punctuation, and spelling can all sabotage you unless you pay attention to detail. When in doubt, look it up. Free to use website services such as Grammarly can help.

        8. Proofread Before You Hit Send

        Nothing is perfect in its first draft. If you lack attention to detail, then put in the extra effort before submitting things. Before you send off any written work, check carefully not only for misspellings and incomplete sentences but also for improper tone, inappropriate colloquialisms, and inconsistent formatting. When your written communications are error-free, they will have their intended impact.

        9. Minimize Distractions

        It is impossible to stay focused when colleagues carry on conversations nearby or your mobile notifications ding you throughout the day. Do your best to limit distractions.

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        If you are working where there is a lot of noise or side activity, try wearing noise-canceling headphones or seeking out a quiet corner. Disable your notifications when you need to focus, and resolve to only check them after you have completed your assignment.

        10. Take Breaks

        It may sound counter-intuitive to stop and take a walk, but it’s necessary. Walk away from the screen. Moving from one task to the next across the span of your workday is a recipe for brain fatigue. Give your brain a recess time when you come to a natural stopping place or after you complete one project and before you start the next. These short pauses are necessary for sorting through all the details needed for coming up with successful solutions.

        11. Make Time for Reflection

        At the end of a workday, take a few minutes to go over the day’s events in your mind. What was said or relayed in conversations? What is the status of the projects you worked on? What else occurred that you should pay attention to? Could there have been any details you might have missed that you should address tomorrow?

        12. Keep a Detailed To-Do List

        This simple organizational tool is your best ally for getting your work done on time and for paying attention to the details. If you are pressed for time (and who isn’t?), write your list to coordinate with dayparts.

        Allot a certain number of hours to complete each task, do it, and then check it off. Nothing feels more rewarding than completing all the tasks on your list. But if you can’t finish them, then carry them over to the following day.

        Final Thoughts

        Details may seem small, but they can become a lot larger when they are overlooked. If you know you lack attention to detail, commit to training yourself to embrace the many facets that can help you consistently excel in the tasks you set out to accomplish.

        When you begin to catch your mistakes in advance or apply the tidbits of information you gathered from paying close attention, you will know that you have trained yourself in the fundamentals of becoming detail-oriented. After that, you should start hearing the phrase “Great job!” more often.

        More Tips on Boosting Your Attention to Detail

        Featured photo credit: Cristina Gottardi via unsplash.com

        Reference

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