The following is an extract from the introduction of Tony’s new book: Unbusy
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What does it mean to be ‘Unbusy’? Contrary to the word’s formal dictionary definition, the ‘Unbusy’ we are about to explore over the following pages is not about doing nothing. It is not about lazy behaviour, nor does it mean being idle. Unbusy is, in fact, the opposite of too busy.
Let’s take a moment to consider all the activities we typically say we are ‘too busy’ to do. Are they unimportant timewasters, like binge-watching the latest TV series? Or are we actually too busy for the important things, or people, in our lives?
As a professional Performance Coach in workplaces around the world, I meet people every day who declare they are in a continuous state of ‘too busy’. But too busy for what? I have explored this question with hundreds of individuals, from stressed-out senior executives to part-time workers trying to balance their lives.
When I ask these people to complete the sentence, “I’m too busy to…”, I commonly see the following replies:
.. start that long-term project
.. study for further qualifications or engage in personal development
.. help my kids with homework and get involved in their school or sports
.. coach my staff
.. write a book
.. work on strategy and marketing
These activities and myriad other examples are not unimportant timewasters. Often, they are the most important elements of our lives and crucial to our performance in and outside the workplace. So, what are we too busy doing in their place?
The reality is that all too frequently, we are consumed with trivial tasks - answering emails, social media, reading and updating reports, procrastinating or answering phone calls. If we are honest with ourselves, most of these pursuits are unimportant. Yet they seem urgent in the moment. And this brings us to our core problem: so many of the things we claim we are ‘too busy’ to do are actually far more important than those we spend our time on.
But since these important activities do not seem particularly urgent, they find themselves buried at the bottom of the pile, never to resurface. Instead of digging them out and giving them the attention they deserve, we get distracted by our next quick-win or easy item on our to-do lists. If we were Unbusy, however, we could find a way to invest more time, focus and effort in all these meaningful activities and goals.
Being ‘too busy’ can make us feel important, but it ultimately leaves us empty. We have a nagging sense at the back of our minds that although we are doing so much, we are not truly making progress in the areas that matter. We find ourselves wishing we had time to do more of the things that fulfill us, that our days were not such a whirlwind of demands, errands and distractions.
Being ‘too busy’ can make us feel important, but it ultimately leaves us empty
When we are Unbusy, we can begin to realise this fantasy by striving to live our Optimal Day, every day. In our Optimal Day, we make time to actively shape each area of our life as we would like it to be – from long-term work projects, to nurturing our significant relationships and taking care of our minds and bodies. When we are ‘too busy’, our days turn out differently: they are sub-optimal. Even on those rare occasions that we complete a mountain of tasks, we often find we are merely spinning our wheels.
This is not a result of personal failings alone. Rather, as we will discover over the course of this book, we humans are hardwired to be busy. As we read on, we will also see that there are a range of strategies we can employ to give ourselves the best chance of living our Optimal Day. Through better understanding and adapting our mental, emotional and physical performance, we can learn to master our hardwiring and become Unbusy.
We will begin our Unbusy project by tackling the basics of our hardwiring in Chapter One, where we will see how our four-million-year-old software often gets in the way. Here, we will be introduced to our brain’s CEO, Autopilot and emotional brain and learn how they work in concert to help, or hinder, us in the quest for our Optimal Day.
With this new understanding of the mechanisms driving our best work, we will explore the three areas of performance that are crucial to our Optimal Day.
In the Mental Performance section, we will consider which elements of our lives are most important, what deserves our attention and how we can build certain behaviours into our day to help us become Unbusy. We will also see how much more productive we can be when we engage in focused work rather than distracted work and learn to make the most of the time we have, both in and outside the workplace.
In the section on Emotional Performance, we will be reminded how our unruly feelings so often shatter our chances of an Optimal Day. Amid our pressing deadlines and other adversities, we will find strategies to manage ongoing stress and tame our emotions so that we can stay in the Performance Zone.
Finally, our section on Physical Performance will scrutinise why giving it our best is such hard work, especially when we are on low-fuel alert. Here, we will learn why we must recover energy in order to spend it, as well as some transformative strategies for recharging through regular breaks and quality sleep.
Now, let’s take another moment to imagine that we are on holiday during the Christmas break, reflecting on the past year and the new one ahead. Most likely, you will find your mind wandering to all the goals and projects that are not getting due attention – that is, the areas of life you wish you could commit to and work on… if only you had enough time.
But the reality is that you will never have more time than you have now – time is a finite resource. If, however, you are willing to commit to some of the strategies you are about to discover over the following chapters, you will find yourself achieving far more in the time you already have. So too, you will free up more hours and days to devote to what really counts. In this way, this book is not just about finding time and space to reflect, disconnect and be still – although you will find strategies for this in the section on Physical Performance – it is also about how we manage ourselves, our energy, our priorities and our time to do the things that we know make us more productive, valuable and fulfilled. Ironically, being Unbusy will help you get more done.
As we set out towards our goal of Unbusy, we will need one essential skill in our toolkit: the ability to do the Harder Thing.
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** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert focussed on helping leaders build the environment for high performance. His insights into performance science and it's application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership, culture change, high performance and productivity. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and combines the two for a different perspective. He is also the author of Jack and the Team that Couldn't See and delivers workshops and keynote presentations around the globe.