Busy isn't better: Focus on what really moves the needle in your career

May 15, 2024

How are you doing? If you’re like many people, your knee-jerk response might be a somewhat exasperated, “Busy”. It seems like the right answer, almost a badge of honour in our hyperactive work cultures. But let’s be honest, claiming "busy" does little for your reputation beyond suggesting you’re just treading water. It’s uninteresting and unstrategic, evoking images of someone lost in the weeds, overwhelmed by their to-do list.

I want to challenge you to set aside the 'busy badge''. It’s not just about how unappealing it sounds; it’s about the need to think about your work in smarter, more strategic ways. If you want to stand out at work and be recognised, consider the following approach.

The Magic of Three Priorities

Jim Collins, in his influential book Good to Great, points out a common mistake many of us make: we set way too many goals. This scatters our focus and waters down our efforts. What's the magic number according to him? Three. Yes, just three main objectives at a time. He famously says, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any”. As someone who used to love dreaming big and scribbling a laundry list of goals, I've learned the hard way that less really is more. So, what’s the takeaway for your career? Slim down that ambitious list. Choose three significant business priorities, no more. This isn’t just about making your to-do list manageable—it sharpens your leadership skills and ensures you're known as someone who gets things done, not just someone who's always busy.

Overcoming the Urgency Trap

Ever feel like you're constantly putting out fires at work, ticking off task after task, yet at the end of the day, you haven’t moved an inch closer to your big work goals? That's the urgency trap for you. It's easy to get sucked into. Urgent tasks are loud and demanding; they beg for your attention and give you a quick hit of satisfaction when you tick them off. But here's the kicker: they are often valued less than you might think. On the other hand, the really important tasks—the ones that will truly move you forward in your career—are usually less demanding. They don’t scream for your attention, but they require more thought, more planning, and, yes, more effort. These are the tasks that offer real, lasting benefits. Want to beat the trap? Start prioritising the important over the urgent. It’s not about doing more; it’s about doing what truly matters.

Strategies to Focus on What’s Important

  1. Time Blocking: Start by setting aside specific times in your day or week that are completely dedicated to your top priorities. Treat these time blocks as sacred appointments that cannot be moved or cancelled. This could be an hour each morning or a couple of hours twice a week—whatever works best for you. The key is consistency and commitment. Use this time to tackle the tasks that define your career and are essential for your long-term success. By protecting these time slots, you ensure that your most important work gets the attention it deserves without getting lost amid daily distractions.
  2. Tackle Important Tasks First: Leverage the freshness of the morning to deal with your most crucial tasks. Mornings are generally quieter, and your mind is less cluttered, making it the perfect time to focus on projects that require deep thought and strategic planning. This approach ensures that you give your best energy to the tasks that matter most. Completing these early in the day boosts your productivity and gives you a sense of achievement that can motivate you throughout the rest of your day. Plus, it prevents important tasks from being sidelined by unforeseen urgencies that often arise.

In Conclusion

Being perpetually busy isn’t a badge of honour—it’s a barrier to genuine achievement. By focusing on just a few impactful priorities and managing your time with intent, you can transform how you work and how you're perceived in your career. Let’s shift from being busy to being productive by doing less, but better. This is how you move the needle in your career!


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