StartUp Tip #155: Don’t be busy, be focused

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Take a look around: everyone is multitasking.

We are doing more than we have ever done, attempting to fill every space and time with more work.

Every downtown scene is the same: heads tilted downward, faces lost in glowing screens, technology turning people into zombies.

You get into the Gautrain, people are on screens, chatting on phones, others talking loud enough for us to hear that they are closing a very big deal with Government Minister So-and-So.

We live in a busy world, one in which our value is often measured in productivity, efficiency, work rate, output, yield, GDP growth rates, the rat race.

We are inundated with meetings and spreadsheets, status updates, tweets and rush-hour traffic, conference calls, travel time, text messages, reports, voicemails and multitasking and all the trappings of a busy life. Go, go, go. Busy, busy, busy.

Busy has become the new norm.

If you are not busy, especially in today’s workplace, you are often thought of as lazy, unproductive, inefficient, a waste of space.

We even say when people around us are not productive, they are wasting the air we breathe.

I grimace whenever someone accuses me of being busy: my facial features contort. I respond to this accusation the same way each time: ”I’m not busy, I’m focused.”

Henry David Thoreau said:

“It is not enough to be busy. The question is: what are we busy about?”

If I were to append his quandary, I would say:

“It is not enough to be busy. The question is: what are we focused on?”

There is a vast difference between being busy and being focused.

The former involves the typical tropes of productivity: anything to keep our hands moving, to keep going, to keep the conveyer belt in motion.

It is no coincidence we refer to mundane tasks as “busywork.”

Busywork works well for factories, robots, and fascism, but not so great for anyone who’s attempting to do something worthwhile with their waking hours.

Being focused, on the other hand, involves attention, awareness, patience and intentionality.

People sometimes mistake focused time for busyness because complete focus takes many of the same surface characteristics as busy: namely, the majority of my time is occupied.

The difference, then, is I don’t commit to a lot of things, but the tasks and people I commit to receive my full attention.

Being focused does not allow me to get as much accomplished as being busy; thus, the total number of tasks I complete has gone down over the years, although the significance of each undertaking has gone up, way up.

This year I committed to do only a few things: publish my thoughts, teach and mentor entrepreneurs, read certain books, but those efforts will receive all of me.

This might not look good on a pie chart next to everyone who’s adding up their productivity metrics, but it certainly feels better than being busy just for the sake of being busy.

I rather focus on a few initiatives that I can do very well, than be all over the place doing many things that I can only do averagely.

Focus on going deeper than wider.

Being busy means doing stuff being productive means getting stuff done.

Sure, sometimes I slip, sometimes I fall back into the busy trap that has engulfed our culture.

When I do, I make an effort to notice my slip-up, and then I course-correct until I’m once again focused on only the worthwhile aspects of life.

It is a constant battle, but it is one worth fighting.

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