I have read this title many times over the last few years but until now, didn’t really consider the many facets of The Busy Trap and how, on one hand, we are the creators of our own version of this trap but how society reinforces “busy” as an admirable state of being. At its’ extreme, extreme business can transform you into a “busy martyr.”
Some people love to be busy because it avoids them having to think about their situation and how they came to be there. If you keep on moving forward at a fast enough pace, the past will never catch up with you!
I feel that if we don’t take the time to reflect on the outcome of past actions, we inevitably repeat the same behaviours and probably the same mistakes. Einstein was quoted as saying:
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!”
Einstein didn’t actually say this (ever) and the quote is misattributed to him. No matter who actually came up with this slice of wisdom, it makes sense. If we keep on running, busily repeating the same behaviours, we will make the same mistakes and waste a lot of time.
To counter the trap of busy, there are some very solid principles that can be applied to work and to life which will ensure that time is spent effectively. It’s a win-win because either the “busy” is going to be more effective and achieve the goal of getting more work done or even better, free up time to make the need to be busy less. Here are the top 5 principles of effective planning, work and delivery:
- Understand the required outcome. If you don’t fully understand the goal of the task at hand, how do you know when it’s completed? Mission creep is when a job just keeps on getting bigger or longer. Having a clearly defined outcome will avoid this.
- Be aware of potential show-stoppers before you start. If you know, before you start, that there are things outside your control that are going to prevent you from reaching the required outcome, maybe it’s time to address those before. It doesn’t matter how hard you work if that work cannot directly impact the outcome.
- Estimate effort with precision. Estimating, accurately, the time and resources required for a task can be time well spent. If you are unable to estimate for all components of a deliverable, be sure to set review points and re-assess regularly.
- Shorten feedback loops. If a particular task or project requires feedback at points along the way, shortening the amount of work done before measuring the feedback will avoid that time is wasted with work based on incorrect assumptions.
- Deliver and iterate. One of the best approaches to any deliverable is to, as quickly as possible, deliver the minimum required to get feedback. In software development, this is called the MVP (minimum viable product) approach. Deliver something that meets the requirements, gather feedback, and then deliver the next version.
Never spend too much time on assumptions. This quote from writer Suzy Kassem sums it up
“Assumptions are quick exits for lazy minds that like to graze out in the fields without bother.”