Tony Crabbe is an international consultant and business psychologist who has written a really useful book “Busy” – how to thrive in a world of too much. It’s become one of the top 3 leadership books in 2016 and been a best seller in a number of countries. Many people have a clear sense of what we want to do and where we want to go – but things derail us or get in the way and Tony has some really useful insights on this.
Tony became curious about the word “busy” when he was on a tube in London and within a few minutes he heard seven different people use that word. Busy has become some sort of brand – when we meet people they may ask how you are and we respond with this word busy. We try and convince people quite how busy we are.
Busy can mean a few things – a state of constant alertness, constant activity, racing, rushing, cramming and juggling that spans so much of our life. Tony thinks that the opposite of busyness isn’t necessarily relaxation on a beach, but the ability to bring sustained focused attention onto the people or problems that matter most to you.
IBM estimated that whilst the complete knowledge of the world used to double every 100 years it will soon be doubling every 11 hrs. If you combine that with the extra demands and communication overload, we all get busy. Busy is a natural response to this crazy information overload – but is it the right response? the smart response? is it the only response?
There is some great research where psychologists put people in a room where they have nothing to do for 50 minutes, apart from being able to give themselves an electric shock. Because we are so used to this world of hyper-stimulation and activity, most people choose to electocute themselves even though it was painful, rather than be left alone with their brains. Being alone with our brain is critical – it is when we reflect on our lives in line with our values, make sense and meaning of the world and evolve our personality, so busyness is easier than the alternative and a form of procrastination.
The World economic forum suggests that complex problem solving, creativity and empathy are going to be the core capabilities of the future and Tony feels that busyness undermines all three.
We spend our lives “phubbing” each other (when we are having conversation and get out our phones). Organisation’s want more diversity and innovation – yet they allow practices where we are never fully present with each other. Any value from diversity just doesn’t get accessed if people are half present.
What can we do about it all?
People are busy because there is too much to do – I have to do this, there is nothing I can do about it. But there should be an insertion of choice – yes there is too much to do and therefore what choices do I choose to make in the face of that. How do I still focus on the stuff that I know is going to make a difference to my clients or family – despite having too much to do.
Part of the trick is to say – I am going to be a bit sloppy in certain areas in order to be really good over here. Perfection and trying to do everything is the enemy of greatness. People often work to an imaginary standard that is far too high for what is required – we need our managers at work to let us know what the standard is.
Increased time awareness actually makes us busier, which is not the solution to busyness. When we focus on time we split our time into smaller slices so things get chaotic and disorganised.
Tony feels that it is time for attention. Managing our attention better.
1) Decide which of the things coming up is the best use of my attention.
2) When people are given the choice of doing a task that is small and dull rather than big/difficult but interesting, they will chose the small and dull. So you go to work with good intentions, check emails and then get caught up in other things. So we need to make better use of our brain at the right times.
3) It takes an amount of time to get into a flow state, to really concentrate. Even clustering emails together is a really important thing to leave bigger gaps of attention for the things that matter. Switch distractions off – get away from emails, so you can work temptation free and be focused.
One of the key things in career terms is learning to manage the politics. Some people are too busy to manage the politics – they just want to do a good job and hope that someone notices. But actually a lot of those relationships really matter. The brand that most of us are building up is the brand of busyness, as opposed to building up a brand that is actually genuinely interesting about ourselves. Standing for something as opposed to rampant activity seems a very valuable thing.
Tony talks of Warren Buffett, who asked a pilot “What are your goals in life?” The pilot wrote 20 down. Buffett then said – choose your top 5, then look really carefully at your next 15 and do everything you can do to avoid doing those because those are the things that will actually distract you from having the life you want to have. Part of success and satisfaction is being able to consciously choose.
Say NO to great ideas in order to put enormous energy behind the things that we choose – that is the secret.
Busy is the standard response to the environment we are in now – if you are distracted you can only offer shallow thinking. But it’s not the only choice. We need to recognise that we are human and our brains are incredible pieces of kit, but at the same time they are vulnerable. We need to put simple practices in place that allow us to move from being reactive, to more intentional and create environments that allow us to do our best thinking and be creative.