The Bigger Picture: The Truth About Being Busy

It’s a well-known fact that being busy is a form of procrastination. Consider the out-of-shape individual who is “too busy” to exercise or cook healthy meals, or the MBA applicant who is too busy to start on application essays. It happens everywhere: you want to clean out your apartment, dive into a new work project, study for your exam, begin your book manuscript or learn a new language, but you are way too busy. However, if you take a close look at what you are busy with, it’s often unnecessary tasks. You are running around dropping off dry cleaning, buying the perfect gifts, making restaurant reservations, walking the dog, visiting a friend or replying to emails. Many of these tasks could be eliminated, outsourced or simplified. But then you’d have to face the more daunting, challenging tasks at hand.

“Being busy” is a sneakier form of procrastination than aimlessly surfing the web, because it is disguised as productivity. Today I am discussing an even more insidious category of procrastination: when you are “busy” doing things that actually relate to and appear to support the task at hand.

Every year we have several of these clients: they sign up early with big plans to apply to all their target business schools in the first round. They have done a ton of research. They have spreadsheets comparing programs, ROI analyses, outlines for potential essays, lists of activities, pro/con reviews of potential recommenders; they have done their homework and then some! I used to be impressed and almost intimidated by the thoroughness and preparation power of these individuals. Their checklists, to-do lists and timelines were always so beautifully formatted and thoughtfully prepared.

That was before I learned that they are really just expert procrastinators in disguise. No, they aren’t lying around on the couch binge watching The Real Housewives with a bag of Doritos. But they may as well be doing just that. Honestly, most of the work they are doing is not going to help them complete their end goal. Year after year these individuals end up rolling their applications to round 2 and sometimes abandoning the process altogether. After several “strategy” calls we tell them that they need to start writing. But they often want to ponder a new angle, and get it all just right before taking the plunge.

And then there are those clients who just crank it out. The drafts may be sloppy and excessively long, but day after day without fail, they arrive in my inbox. Nothing fancy, lots of typos, but they get the real work done. It’s apparent in their real life too. These are the applicants who balance a demanding full-time job with volunteer work, fun extra-curriculars and a social life. They break through the fear of not getting it perfect and they just forge ahead and do.

So, what should you do if you find that your “busy” life is preventing you from the real things you want to accomplish?

  1.  Consider the hard work that needs to be done in order to accomplish your goal.For example:
    Applying to business school: draft essays
    Launching a blog: write that first blog post
    Getting fit: go for a run
    Starting an interior design business: land your first client
  2. Consider all of the secondary tasks related to your goal and jot them down in a to-do list.For example:
    Applying to business school: secure recommenders, fill out data forms, schedule school tours and interviews
    Launching a blog: finalize the name, create a logo, secure a url
    Getting fit: buy workout clothes, find an exercise class, search online for healthy food blogs
    Starting an interior design business: create a website, order business cards, find a contract template.

    Items in this step are fillers. It can be a lot of fun to shop for workout clothes, peruse MBA program websites and create a logo for your blog. Do these things when you need a break, on a Saturday morning or even late at night in front of the TV. Yes, you can complete these tasks, but don’t fool yourself into believing they are mission critical.

  3. Do the one task in step 1 before you ever touch the tasks in step 2. The fear in your brain will try to steer you to step 2 tasks. The fear will rationalize that you have to do the prep before diving in. But, it’s not true! You CAN write a blog post before you have a logo. You CAN draft an admissions essay without an outline. You CAN get fit without a beautiful food journal.…and perhaps you SHOULD.
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