You’re not as busy as you think you are

by Peter Shallard

Me, not doing work

I’ve been in a state of radio-silence for a little while now, mainly due to my attending the Summit at Sea event and the scrambling of client work that preceded and followed 4 days unplugged in the Caribbean.

Once I manage to top the cogs in my head whizzing at light speed, I’ll publish a post about what happened at the event. This isn’t it. Today I just want to talk about the scramble.

I have a hypothesis: You’re not nearly as busy as you think you. Re-examining your relationship with “busy” could take your business to the next level. Read on to find out why.

I’ve been on the road for six weeks now, traipsing around the United States (and, briefly Canada). For the first time in my life, I’ve been able to ditch the corporate schmoozing that used to keep a roof over my head in favor of location independence via online business. Go me.

Thing is, I’ve been working on the online biz for a while now – from the safety of my office and home in Sydney Australia. I have been keeping up some corporate work, as well as a healthy social life.

However… at home, I really felt busy.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew I wasn’t really busy. I did feel I worked hard though.

Then, I hit the road. As soon as my plane landed in Montreal, I was pitched head first into an alien culture where a certain form of scarcity hit me hard.

I knew that the experiences being offered up to me (wandering on a frozen river, skiing, being mere feet from Arctic Wolves) were once-in-a-lifetime. Or, at least, once-in-a-canada-trip. The knowledge of the scarcity of these experiences shifted fun, touristy stuff (see ridiculous picture) to the top of my priorities… leaving all things work related right at the bottom.

I kept telling myself that I’d have a “solid catching-up day” any time soon. How naive. Instead, Canada (and elsewhere as my trip progressed) continued to offer up more and more fun things to do.

I was forced to develop a new coping mechanism for getting work done.

First of all, I decided to cut everything to the absolute bare minimum. This was a good theory until I remembered that, as the shrink for entrepreneurs, every single client interaction is massively important.

Turns out I don’t ever do anything that isn’t the bare minimum – not back home and certainly not while traveling. My attempts to delete things from the “to-do list” failed.

Another way of saying this is: Everything I do that is “work” is important. Nothing is superfluous. Publishing blog posts is a rare and occasional exception to that rule.

So it was back to the drawing board.

What happened really surprised me. In the early hours of the morning and the late hours of every night (that I wasn’t out and about), I caught up on work.

In non-business hours, I completed the tasks, client emails, to-dos and got writing done. Like a crazy person.

What used to take me eight hours, I was getting done in one or two.

Now that I’m nearing the end of my trip (flight home begins tomorrow morning), it’s clear that the impact of this is…. zero. Nothing has changed.

In the last six weeks I’ve added new clients to my roster, keeping me operating at my “peak” capacity for one-on-one work. Same “peak” that I defined almost a year ago when James Chartrand asked me how much I could handle.

Not only that, I’ve put the finishing touches on a corporate client’s online staff development program, build by yours truly with the assistant of MenwithPens in the UI department. This has been a massive project for me.

In fact, I’ve accomplished in six weeks what I might have accomplished in six weeks at home in Sydney. Except I’ve ALSO used these six weeks (and over seven flights) to visit friends and clients all over the place. I’ve had more nights out than I had in the last year combined, visited more museums than I can remember (my feet remember the marble floors) and generally had the best time imaginable.

I’m being a little vulnerable here, but I want you to understand that I’m certain of one thing:

I’ve done the same (or more) work in the last six weeks than I would have if I was working, full-time, back home in Sydney.

This has happened out of necessity, because I’m not someone who drops the ball.

I also know for a fact that James Chartrand surprised herself by running the MenwithPens empire in less than two hours a day while attending the madness that was SXSW.

It seems like I’m not the only person experiencing this phenomena.

So here’s my questions for you:

If you were able to prioritize hedonism above work, as I did for six weeks, how would you still continue to deliver on promises? How would you still ship good work out the door?

Why do we wait until we’re overseas to prioritize fun experiences (read: hedonism) over “work”? What would happen if we treated every day like we were on holiday?

I entitled this post “YOU’RE not as busy as you think you” … but I really just talked about me. There’s a reason for this – I’m holding myself up as an example of what happens when your eyes are opened to how much work you really do.

My intention today, above all else, is to have you think about how you might condense your critical work-actions into fewer and fewer hours per day.

I’m wondering what you, my talented readers, might do with all that extra time. Lots of questions – Let me know what you think by leaving a comment after this post.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

James Chartrand - Men with Pens April 13, 2011 at 6:34 am

I don’t know if I should look sheepish or cry out, “Hear, hear!”

I knew I could operate my business easily while traveling – I took a nearly-four-weeks road trip tour of Eastern Canada with my kids last year… all without a hitch. I’d work a few hours in the morning, one at night and vacation the rest.

I did the same while visiting Naomi Dunford for several weeks.

So when Austin and SXSW came around, I already knew I could work and have fun, all at once. I didn’t *need* to work 8 hours a day.

What’s surprised me is that when I came home from Austin… I realized I STILL didn’t need to work 8 hours a day. And found myself spending the past few weeks enjoying some much deserved R&R.

Until you started mentioning that damned sentence that drives me mad: “Yeah, James… Imagine what you could do if you actually did something awesome with that time, eh?”

*mutters*

Right now, I’d like to enjoy that time my business permits me to have, because I’ve worked very hard to get to this point, and I *should* enjoy it, I think.

But I also think I’d like to start changing things up. Actually scheduling time AWAY from the computer to do… other stuff. Amazing stuff. What would life be like if I committed an hour or two a day to XYZ project? A project that I really WANTED to do?

Yeah. *nods*

But now here’s the question back at you: What if I make myself a promise to do just that… and don’t stick to it? Common, that one, I’m sure!

(PS: Firsties!)

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Adam King April 13, 2011 at 11:32 am

The beauty of that realization is actually getting to define what is high value activity based on your situation.

A common truth is that an activity will take as long as the time is allowed for it. I think this truth can be applied to the more abstract personal growth that can be accomplished in that new-found “free time.”

1.5-ies

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Peter Shallard April 14, 2011 at 12:46 am

Hey James,

You’re right about something that deserves being re-affirmed: It doesn’t have to be “all or nothing” … I personally have to think twice (or thrice) because my brain is unconsciously pre-disposed to “all or nothing” patterns. You absolutely CAN do some R&R and spend 1-2 hours per day on a kickass project… in fact that may be better than the 110% work mode/110% party mode that I flipflop between.

Your question is a big (broad) one – there’s lots of reasons for that kind of procrastination/sabotage. So many in fact, you should read Seek & Destroy to find out which particular flavor of “stuck” you’re suffering from.

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Mark Silver April 13, 2011 at 11:36 am

I so agree with this- it’s been an epiphany recently as well. Today I spent some time in the garden, digging up a garden bed. What a relief! And spent the morning with my kids. And still got the incredibly important things done.

More than 1-2 hours, but that’s because I had client sessions in there.

We have a lot less work than we think we do… :) Good one, Peter, calling it like it is.

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Marla Sarris April 13, 2011 at 11:47 am

One of my goals since leaving my teaching position last June has been to slow down and get de-stressed. I tend to fill my time to the fullest. So as of my last day I wanted to clear my schedule and start over from scratch. I tried to figure out what was important to me. What did I really want to use my time for? And then I started slow only adding one new item at a time, so I didn’t fill all my time again like we tend to do. No matter what it is, whatever time we have, we tend to fill it.

All while I was reading this the thought going through my head was, this is exactly what life is like for Jeff & I, as we’ve been on a whirlwind of travel since September! Glad you experienced a similar increase in efficiency, in a shorter allotted amount of time. :)

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Sandi Amorim April 13, 2011 at 11:54 am

I’m right there with all of you! I often hear, “You’ve got so much on the go, how do you get it all done? You must work long hours!” My response is usually in the realm of “nah, I don’t work that hard.”

I don’t want to work hard for a living. I want to enjoy my work and totally enjoy my life.

Every once in awhile I get caught up in a vortex of “oh-my-god-more-to-do-what-do-they-want-from-me-now” thinking, but it doesn’t last long!

Great post Peter. Reminded me of how grateful I am to be here now.

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Patrick Vuleta April 13, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Really interesting post, Peter.

I think we start from the perception that work *has* to take a long time, and somehow it does when we expect it to.

I don’t view this as an excuse to cut back though, more like wondering if when we congratulate ourselves for getting so much done, have we really done anything that we couldn’t have got done in half the time.

As to your quesiton – what I might do with all that extra time? Improve my non-existant relationships, for one. :P Also ensure that I’m not overwhelmed by work. Overwhelm comes from the feeling of not enough time to do everything, and if we can realise that yes, there actually is, then that’s good.

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Patrick Vuleta April 13, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Also would take the time to ensure that I don’t make stupid spelling mistakes in blog comments.

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Glenn Murray April 13, 2011 at 12:33 pm
Suellen Hughes April 13, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Great post Glenn – you tell ‘em!!!!!

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Suellen Hughes April 13, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Well, sounds like you’re having a fine old time – lucky you and good on you.

I’m busy but busy doing things that are so energising. I find it totally different being busy working on my own business instead of working in corporate land doing things I had to do but didn’t want to do.

I could work fewer hours by eliminating the time I spend reading and commenting on blogs ;) but I consider this leisure time anyway. It’s being able to do it guilt-free, without having to quickly minimise my screen when the boss walks past.

Now what I’d truly love to do is take 6 months off with my 7yr old and husband and go and live somewhere completely different. No reason I can’t do what I do here from anywhere with an internet connection. Now there’s a plan.

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Cory April 13, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I hear you, Peter, loud and clear …. I’m guilty as charged with letting my “hard work” expand to chew up all the time in a day. Your point is so well taken. I’m still working on how the practice of medicine can be location-independent, though. I’m guessing “client emergency” takes on a different connotation in my work…hahaa, as do “office hours”. However, those seeking an excellent health advocate/doctor/diagnostician for themselves, their families, or their companies (and comfortable working through electronic media) are welcome to help me launch…! ;)

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Johnny B. April 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Turns out I don’t ever do anything that isn’t the bare minimum

I LOL’d.

But you’re preaching to the choir in my inbox, dude. Parkinson’s law and all that… you tell work, “Fuck you, work… you’ll fit into the piddly time I give you” and it behaves.

Or as I’ve put it… http://johnnybtruant.com/schedule-your-fun-stuff/

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Peter Shallard April 14, 2011 at 12:31 am

Typically, Johnny has just said in two sentences what I tried to say in three hundred.

“Fuck you, work… you’ll fit into the piddly time I give you” < — Should have been my post title :P

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Amy Harrison April 13, 2011 at 7:58 pm

There’s just something comfortable and “busy” about the desk setting, is a boost to productivity because we also have a change of scenery when we’re “away”.

It’s like if you ever put motivational quotes on post it notes, and by day 2 they’ve hit a total blind spot and you forget they’re there. Maybe being out and about keeps us on our toes more.

I’ve been recording with the band last couple of days and managed to keep up to date and even get a new client. Next week I’m at Bluegrass band camp for a week and I know I’ll only have a couple of hours a day to get everything done. I was going to try and get it all done before I go, but I’m going to have a bash at fitting it in whilst I’m there . :-)

Great pic as well.

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Jonathan April 13, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Interesting post – many of us will empathise with your sentiments – I’m sure.

It seems that workload is often just a perception whereas time is the only true reality.

Also, it’s amazing how our aspirations to travel overseas greatly increases when we read or hear about other folks travel experiences!

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Monica / Authentic Abundance April 22, 2011 at 4:28 am

I once gave up multi-tasking for Lent, and had a similar epiphany.

I think there are two things happening. One is that by focusing on what we’re doing when we’re doing it, we do it better. When you’ve only got two hours to work, you work more efficiently and get more done than if you have eight hours. And when you’re dedicated to your recreational time, you get more refreshment too.

The other is that when we have real limits, we decide what’s most important and that becomes what’s most fulfilling for us. We don’t miss the things we don’t value, and we revel in what we do value. I’d like to learn to do that even when I don’t have real limits!

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Cat Matson April 25, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Just stopping by to say ‘thanks’ for this article in particular as well as the profound wisdom that IS Peter ;-)

I don’t have much to add to this conversation except to say I have likewise experienced those times of keeping on top of everything, even in times of reduced ‘availability’ … only to have the ‘work’ expand to fill the time available during ‘normal’ operations.

Maybe I need to tell myself I only work a couple of hours a day, a couple of days a week …

things that make you go ‘mmm’

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