Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Paradox of Busy

2 weeks ago I was rock-bottom. Yes, truly. I felt completely out of control, not on top of things and scared stiff by the amount of things that needed to be done. I felt busy, busy, busy, I felt responsible and needed: "It will all fall to pieces if I don't finish this or that on time!" However much I was feeling stressed out, I did feel as if I had a purpose.

Now the storm is over. I'm back in charge and everything is back in order. I'm now feeling the complete opposite of myself 2 weeks ago. I took the advice to heart about protecting my time, focusing on priorities and delegating things that can be delegated. As a result, everything is running smoothly, everybody is confident about what needs to be done and I'm on schedule for all my projects.

Wonderful! Or so it should feel. But it doesn't! I feel useless! A slack! Puzzled by this paradoxical feeling, a time-management concept hit me: the tension between urgency and importance.
In our current work ethic urgency often gets misunderstood as importance. We all know days where time just seems to fly by, but at the end of the day we ask ourselves: "What did I actually do?" Those are Urgent days. Of course some of the things you've done were important, but I can guarantee you that a large portion of your day consisted of unimportant stuff. It felt urgent, but in reality it was just something distracting. Urgency is also something external: something breaks down, people fall ill, budgets get cut, a deadline needs to be moved etc. Urgency triggers a fight or flight reaction so to say: we are triggered into taking action.

Urgency overrules Importance. It's human. Also, when I applied some crude mathematics, it became even more clear. Let's say we give scores to the different categories of the matrix. The higher the score, the better it is to spend time on this category:
See what happens? Spending time on non-urgent matters is 'statistically' not preferable. When we concern ourselves with non-urgent but important matters, there always looms the impression that we are concerning ourselves with non-urgent and unimportant things, the worst category to spend time on. The safer option therefore would be to spend time on urgent matters, be they important or unimportant.

But I refuse to give in! I'm not going for safe. I'll keep trying to keep those urgent matters under control and focus on my important but non-urgent work. Because by doing so, I'm making sure my important, but non urgent work won't creep up on me and suddenly become urgent!