Stop Being Busy – Advice for a Better Way to Approach Your Day

November 15, 2017

Busy is another word for ineffective." Great advice by David Crenshaw on time management.

Dave Crenshaw has spent a good portion of his career studying time management. He’s wrote books about it, given speeches about it and has taught half-a-dozen LinkedIn Learning courses on it.

So, after all that research, what’s the biggest thing Crenshaw sees that’s preventing people from becoming more productive?

This obsession with busyness. “Busy implies that they are doing a lot of activity, and a lot of activity most people equate with professional success,” Crenshaw said. “In other words, if I'm busy, I have more self-worth.”

Well, Crenshaw’s goal is to change that misconception.

“Busy is another word for ineffective,” he said. “Your success is not determined by the amount of activity that you're performing, but what you're achieving with the time that you are spending, and how much free time you have to enjoy those results.”

Well said. It’s an obvious concept, yet few people live that way. Truth be told, many of us – myself included – think a busy day at work is a productive day. But that’s not true – a productive day is when we get results, particularly if we can get those results efficiently.

Crenshaw gave this example – imagine you met two people, both of whom make $150,000 a year. One works 80 hours a week to earn $150,000 a year, the other 30. All things being equal, which one is more successful?

“The answer is obvious,” Crenshaw said. “If you can achieve a high level of success and get great results by working less hours, that's much more favorable.”

How do you change that mindset? How do you go from being busy, to being productive?  

Well, Crenshaw said it really comes down to following two rules:

    1. Focus on the result you are achieving, not the activity.

Your job is never to stuff 500 envelopes daily or write a certain amount of code or send out 50 tweets a week. Your job is really to solve a problem – those are just methods to solving that problem.

Think about what you spend time doing each day. Which activities really solve the problem your job is intended to solve?

For example, say you are in sales. You might make 75 calls a day, every day. But how many of those calls lead to a deal? Instead, you might be better off making 15 calls a day, each day, to the people who have the highest probability of buying. And spend some time researching each one, so those 15 calls lead to much better conversations and ultimately more deals.

The point is, your job is never to complete a task (in this case, make 75 calls a day). Your job is to solve a problem (get deals for the company), and you need to figure out the most efficient way to do that.

    2. Underspend your time.

So many of us jam our day so full of meetings and work and personal commitments, we can barely come up for air. Crenshaw suggested doing the exact opposite – to schedule down time within the day to reflect.

“Schedule time to do nothing,” Crenshaw said. “That may sound weird, but giving yourself time to do nothing will have a powerful effect on your mind. It will help you recondition yourself, and stop thinking about how busy you are, and more about what you're accomplishing with that activity. You can be more successful, and you can do it with less activity.”

When is the last time you built reflection into your day? It’s a technique many successful people use, including LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner.

A personal story

One of our mantras at LinkedIn is “do fewer things, better.” The more I’ve grown in my career, the more I’ve realized that’s true.

I’ll take myself for example. I’ve always been someone who has pushed myself as far as I could, when it comes to work. While I’ve gotten better at confining that work to forty hours a week, during those forty hours I’ll go as hard as I can.

While that sounds good, it’s actually poor time management. And, throughout my career I’ve focused more on being busy, as opposed to focusing on the highest-priority tasks that’ll most move the needle.

While not great at it, I’ve done a better job over the past year of doing fewer things, better. And reflecting more on what’s worked best, versus what has just occupied my time and didn't moved the needle. That’s actually allowed me to work less, but accomplish more.

I’m still a believer in hard work and I think anything great in this world is the product of working really hard. But, by following Crenshaw’s advice, that hard work becomes more strategic – and ultimately more impactful.

Looking to manage your time better? Check out Crenshaw's series, Time Management Weekly.