How to turn busy into brilliant

Busy. Who isn’t? But is your busy getting the job done well? Or are you just checking off items on a to-do list? Done, but maybe not so well. Or at best, average.

Busy is a state of mind that can mean “I’m so overwhelmed so I’ll tackle as much as I can without much purpose or thoughtfulness.” The problem with this is that the to-do list never ends. You can easily end up creating a cycle of mediocrity.  It takes courage to step back from old habits of busyness and from a work culture that encourages you to go, go, go!

If you don’t get a handle on your busyness, busy can turn into burnout. So here are 5 suggestions to turn busy into brilliant. By brilliant, I mean not only productive but satisfying as well.

  1. You first.

As soon as you get up each day, do something that connects you with what is most important in your life. If you’re not sure what that is, ask yourself, why am I working in the first place? To provide the best I can for my family? Then experience that caring every morning by spending time with loved ones, calling them on the phone or even looking at pictures of them. Is it to have more freedom to travel? Then create that freedom each morning by reading about inspiring destinations or planning interesting getaways for your weekends. Is it well-being? Then every morning, do some stretching, meditation or motivational reading. The key here is not to wait until someday in the future, when you have everything in order, to connect with and create what you want. Instead, create it a little bit every morning, before you begin your day, even if it is only for a few minutes. This unleashes a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and energy that you can harness for your day.

  1. Schedule the toughest activity at the beginning of the day.

This is the best way to avoid procrastination. Commit to tackling the hardest activity first every day. Notice if you have a habit of working on low-priority items first as a type of “warm-up.” Is this the best use of your morning freshness, especially if you unleashed the energy and enthusiasm in #1? Create a habit of hard things first and then wind your day down with the lower priority tasks. This includes scheduling difficult meetings or conversations as early in the day as possible.

  1. One-hour time blocks for highest productivity.

There have been studies that suggest that the quality of our focus declines after one hour. In my early career as an actress, I learned from one of my acting instructors that the union requirements for a break every hour while rehearsing were based on similar research. Try breaking down longer tasks into smaller steps that can be accomplished in under one hour. Meetings can be shortened or broken up with a brief break each hour. Committing to one-hour time blocks of focused work with a 10-minute break in between will refresh your focus and give you a higher quality of work.

  1. Have strategies for distraction

Boundaries are the best way to defeat distraction. Boundaries for others and yourself. Set times during the day when you answer calls and emails and let your colleagues know beforehand. (You can always be flexible for emergencies). If you work in an open office environment, have something on your desk that alerts others when you are doing deep focused work and are not to be disturbed. Whatever boundaries you set up for yourself, be mindful to respect the boundaries of others too.

If you follow the one-hour time block suggestion, you will have 5-10 minutes each hour to “enjoy” the distraction of your choice, whether it be social media, calling/texting a friend, short meditation or looking out the window or at relaxing photos to let your mind unwind. Distraction can be a good thing when it is actively chosen by you and not a reflex-based on external events.

  1.  Be grateful and accept

I know this is going to sound trite…but it really works. Every day, write down 3 things you are grateful and appreciative for. (I have a small moleskin notebook on my desk for this.) They can be significant or insignificant items. The key here is to create a mindset that is focused on what IS working and how others ARE contributing to your success rather than what isn’t working and who’s sabotaging you. This impacts your perspective and creates a more positive outlook.

Additionally, write down 3 things that you need to accept for today. This is not being defeatist, it is being realistic, for this moment. This brings the hidden frustrations of the day out into the open and allows us to be more proactive. Many things are not in our control, yet we try so hard to force. By being truthful, we can release tension and spend that energy on things that we do have control over, strengthening our internal locus of control.

Most people would agree that our lives are determined by the choices we make, every moment and every day. Today, why not choose one of these suggestions and commit to it for one week. Let me know what happens. See if you can transform your busy into just a little bit more brilliant.

Jo-Aynne von Born, Executive Coach, Work/Life Strategist, Workshop Facilitator


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