We’re All So BUSY … Is That A Good Thing?

If you want something done, give it to a busy person.

I’ve been giving that quote a lot of thought lately. We run three businesses in our household. A few months ago, we decided to buy some land and build a new house. I’m spending huge amounts of time jumping through government hoops to secure various permits at the same time as prepping our current house for a Spring sale. Oh yeah, it’s also year end and tax season both personally and for two of our businesses.

Despite juggling an insane number of balls, I have found myself taking pains to be more organized, so I can manage my time effectively and meet all the competing deadlines. Here’s what’s surprising to me: I’m getting more done.

While waiting for a colleague to join me on a call, I thought I’d dig into this phenomena and see if there’s any truth in the idea that busy people can get more done.

Are you Busy or Productive?

It seems like everyone I talk to is scrambling around from one task to another and doesn’t have enough time in the day. I hear about bottomless to do lists and schedules that are packed to the rafters so finding time for coffee is scheduled weeks out.

Is all this frantic activity making us productive, or just busy?

I think we need to distinguish between the busy and product and for that, I want to share a quote from John Spencer:

“Being busy is about working harder while being productive is about working smarter. Being busy is frantic while being productive is focused. Being busy is fueled by perfectionism while being productive is fueled by purpose. Being busy is about being good at everything while being productive is about being great at a few important things.”

What do you think? Are you productive or just plain busy?

Prioritizing Productivity

Research like this one tests the theory that being busy increases your motivation to be as efficient as possible with the amount of time you dedicate to each project to ensure you don’t miss deadlines. It found that busier people do seem to organize their time in a way that ensures deadlines are met.

I remember taking a time management course in the late ’90s that had us categorize all activities based on whether they would help you achieve the primary goals you set. While I don’t use the system today, some of the lessons have stuck. I am ruthless about adding “tasks” to my day or week that aren’t critical to what I have prioritized. Extra tasks (that aren’t mission critical to my goal) get relegated to the end of the week and if I don’t have time, guess what, they don’t get done … but I also don’t promise anyone that I will get those tasks done because I am someone who will beat myself up if I don’t meet deadlines or deliver on what I’ve promised.

I’m extremely deadline driven. I blame my years as a reporter … after all, the paper won’t wait for you to finish a story. I set deadlines for everything (whether I’ve been given a timeline or not). This is my way of ensuring I don’t fall into the trap of productive procrastination – which essentially means keeping busy doing things that aren’t critical (and I am a master at the art of productive procrastination).

Be Realistic

An important caveat to all these discussions about being productive and meeting deadlines come down to a few cardinal rules.

1.      Set reasonable deadlines. We know how long it takes to complete specific tasks and there’s no point in setting yourself up for failure. If you’re getting pushed to complete a project in an unreasonable timeframe, something has to give and other priorities will need to shift accordingly.

2.      Say no. There are a lot of things I don’t do, or I will hire out. For me, housecleaning is not an effective use of my time (and if I’m honest, I don’t love cleaning). If I hire someone to clean the house, that’s hours of time I can spend on other things. When it comes to entertaining, if I’ve had a busy, deadline-filled week, we’re going out to dinner or ordering in. I’ve no driving desire to be seen as Superwoman Martha Stewart, and I think trying to balance work, home and unrealistic standards is detrimental to our well being!

3.      Control your destiny. I know, this sounds lofty but we have to be able to take control of our time and the demands being made on that time (from work colleagues, family and, in my case, clients). Too often days spiral out of control because of outside forces. How you handle those demands could make a big difference in how you manage and control your time.

4.      Examine what’s keeping you busy. How many things on your packed schedule do you really need to do? If you enjoy it … keep it up. But, if they are just activities that are keeping you running around and not letting you focus on what’s really important, say no and find a way to stop doing it. Saying no isn’t easy but it is a skill we all should master.

I remember reading how top entrepreneurs and business owners leave large blocks of time open in their calendar to think and plan. I think it’s a smart idea. Overscheduling your day doesn’t give anyone your best.

Now, before I get back to my assignments for the day, here’s a piece of advice (and a short assignment): Take a good hard look at your to do list. How much of it is essential or helps you reach a specific goal? Next, look at your calendar. Is it packed to the rafters? It might be time to re-evaluate how you’re spending time and see if you can move the marker from busy to productive and get some of your life back!

What We Learned in the Fire: 3 Traits to Beat the Odds

Volvo 240 after the fire

When you’re running a business, there are always challenges: Some are little ones and some are big ones that have the potential to change the direction of your company (and your life).

We recently faced one of these pivotal moments and it made me realize that how you respond to adversity, and your actions in the moment can shape future success or failure.

Any entrepreneur knows the odds of success aren’t in your favour. Success rates for new businesses are less than 50% and often quoted stats say only 30% make it 10 years. Despite the odds, 543,000 new businesses launch every single month … few survive. Construction businesses face even worse odds with only 36% still going strong after five years.

Pete (my partner in crime) has run a construction business since 2001 so I guess he’s one of the few to beat the odds. We’ve enjoyed economic booms, survived a global recession, have had to rebuild in new locations a few times, and even faced the unprecedented challenges of 9-11 and figuring out how to move (and insure) a piece of heavy equipment internationally for a multi-year project building a golf course in St. Kitts at a time when the world was reeling from an unprecedented terror attack.

When you’re in the moment, you don’t stop and think about how difficult the task you’re undertaking might be. You just keep pushing forward and, eventually, you will get the breakthrough you need.

My random musings have a purpose: We recently faced a new challenge. One of Pete’s excavators (the one he was running at the time) caught fire. After trying to put out the flames with the fire extinguisher we keep in the cabs of all our equipment, he had to make the decision to walk away from the machine, call the fire department and watch it burn to the ground.

It is devastating to see a piece of your fleet on fire and you’re powerless to do anything about it.

But here’s what I realized from that moment: They way you react, and what you do next will make the difference between a business that remains viable and those that begin the spiral into failure.

  • Assess then Act: When Pete noticed the flames, he shut off the machine (stopping the fuel flow) and tried to put out the fire, but he quickly realized the fire was moving too fast and too hot. The hardest thing to do is walk away but risking injury or worse for a piece of equipment would have been a bad decision. You don’t have a lot of time to ponder the options, you have to assess then act quickly.
  • Analyse the Situation: It’s very easy to make excuses for why something happened, but I think when we make excuses, we are missing the lessons. In the hours after the fire, we were already thinking about what happened and how we can do things better or differently to avoid this kind of thing ever happening again.
  • Keep Moving: When the fire struck, the work Pete had lined up for the next months was immediately put on hold. While we have more equipment, none of it is well suited for land clearing. Instead of feeling sorry for himself and lamenting the situation, Pete picked up the phone and started lining up work for the next day … and the days after that. Too often people retract in on themselves or wallow in their misfortune and that stops them from moving forward.

What does it take to succeed where others fail? Hard work is a given and you won’t find anyone who works harder than Pete, but it takes more than hard work. I think the difference between those who make it and those who don’t is their ability to troubleshoot a situation, push the ball forward when everyone is telling you that you can’t and to make sure you learn the hard lessons.

“Gig” Be Gone

freelance writer

What do you do?

It’s a common question when you’re meeting new people and it’s one I’ve never mastered answering. Here’s how the conversation usually goes.

Take One

What do you do?

I’m a writer

Oh, that’s cool. Are you published? Have I read anything of yours?

[Pregnant pause while I try to compose the correct response.] Yes, I am published. Yes, you may have read my work. But, deep down, I know the person I’m talking to wonders if they can find my name on the spine of the latest thriller. That’s not the kind of writer I am.

Take Two

What do you do?

I write for corporations and executives … or I’m in PR and marketing …

… Crickets … and, inevitably, the person I’m talking to starts looking around for someone else to talk to, preferable someone with a cooler job.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I have a very cool job. I learn new things every day, and I love helping people find their voice, tell their stories and create content that helps them advance their business goals.

I don’t need credit for the work I do. I don’t need my name on a byline … been there, done that.

I’m happy to work behind the scenes and remain a ghost. I’m ecstatic when my client tells me someone close to them loved their posts and didn’t realize it wasn’t written by them.

Growth of the Gig Economy

There’s been a lot of focus lately on the growing “gig” economy and how it’s changing the workplace. Gallup reported late last year that 36% of Americans participate in the “gig” economy.

Gallup defines these “alternative work arrangements” as “non-traditional, independent, short-term working relationships”. Anyone who’s not a traditional “employee” is lumped into this category.

Let me be blunt: I hate the term Gig.

In my opinion, piling “non traditional workers” together in the same bucket and slapping a snappy label on it is doing us a major disservice.

What’s a Gig, Anyway?

A gig is defined by Collins Dictionary as a job, esp. a single booking for a musician, comedian, etc., to perform at a concert or club.

Well, I can’t play an instrument. My singing voice would leave me a pauper, and while I do have some “single bookings”, my business has been built on long-term relationships lasting years and even decades.

I have often described myself as a freelancer (or a ghost writer) but I’m also an employee of my own company, ACME Group Consulting. My work schedule is, well, erratic. I might be insanely busy one minute and looking for a new reno project to fill my time the next. (Anyone who knows me knows I like to keep busy.)

Am I part of the gig economy? Technically, yes, but the term gig has always bothered me. It implies a part-time occupation that someone takes on while they’re waiting to “make it big”.

I don’t see my career that way. I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, how I want to do it, and I’ve been successful.

And, while I’m being honest about my views on the current vernacular, I equally dislike the term “side hustle”. Do you really want the person you’re working for to feel like you’re hustling or conning them? I know I don’t.

Let’s Cut the Cute Labels

As a writer, I love a good turn of phrase or a catchy title. What I don’t like is terminology that demeans what I do, and that’s what I think the idea of a “gig” economy is doing. I am a serious professional, with skills that are in demand, and I’m proud that I’ve been able to do what I love, on my own terms, for more than 15 years.

This is not a gig. It’s a career. It’s a profession and not some a temp assignment until I can get a “real job” or land my dream job – I’ve already got a dream job.

New Blog Coming Soon

You know what they say about the shoemaker’s shoes … it’s true.  I spend so much of my time creating content for my customers, I rarely have time to write for myself or my company.

All that is going to change.  Stay tuned!