Taking Control of a Busy Schedule

You're busy all day long, but how much are you really getting done?

Q: I am so busy that most days I feel like I'm just spinning in my tracks. I seem to be doing a lot, but I feel as if I'm going nowhere. Why is busyness eating up my day, and how can I get the essentials done yet still have time left over to enjoy what matters most?

A: How do you know how much you can do? Peter Drucker, the famous industrial analyst and marketplace guru, has said that none of us comes close to using his or her entire potential for getting things done. But we don't want to accept that evaluation, so we invent new criteria to convince ourselves that we're accomplishing a lot--certainly meeting our daily and weekly goals--whether we really are or not. While we want to believe we're better and faster than the competition, could it be that we're confused about the difference between effectiveness and just staying busy? I'm convinced it happens more often than we think or will admit.

Most people I've met tend to measure how much they can do--that is, what they hope they are accomplishing--by how much they're involved in and how busy they are all day long. Instead, I believe an honest assessment would be to ask this: To what degree are you actually in control? Stephen Covey urges us to make a distinction between efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things. His point is well worth considering.

For many people, busyness is their answer to pressure. They run faster to get to the goal before others. But when they arrive, do they have the proper solution? They shop longer and accumulate more. But when they look over their "treasures," do they have the things that make for a happy and peaceful life?

Busyness has become a sign of success and importance. In fact, I have met all too many people who try to impress me with their busyness. When they tell me that their day is a complete zoo and there is still too much to do at the close of business, I know there's a fire somewhere because I'm smelling smoke. We all cry out for relief from overwhelming schedules, but the truth is that if someone provided a way out, we wouldn't know how to respond. The tyranny of the urgent keeps us so busy that we can't give attention to the truly important matters.

Busyness is more than a way of life and a habit. While we weren't looking, it became an addiction. "I'm so busy I never have enough time for myself" is another way of saying "I am important and needed." Busyness has become a way we measure our worth.

Take a look at your life, your schedule, your activities, your relationships. Are you actively involved, working smart and enjoying your life? Are you achieving, growing, maturing, savoring and tasting all that life has for you, or are you just busy, burned out and bored? Getting organized is much more than just putting things in their place. It's also about putting your life and your schedule in their place. Organization means creating boundaries that enhance and promote health and assist you in achieving what matters most. As you focus on your most important priorities, which you have established based on your values in life, you'll find that you will spend more time on the valued goals and priorities and less time on the peripherals. Staying focused on your top priorities--and saying no to the lesser goals--will help you accomplish what is most important to you.

Sue McMillinequips and encourages her clients to clear office and home clutter, enabling them to find anything they own in seconds, recover 40 percent of the space in their environment, gain up to an hour a day in productivity and save as much as $5,000 per employee per year. Some of her clients include 3M, ABA, Boeing, Eli Lilly, Fannie Mae, Intel, Kodak, Marriott, MCI, NEA, Steelcase, Toyota and Xerox.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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