Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” I like to joke that I pick up extra work because people throw it at me while I run past, and it sticks to me. I really like to get things done: I make lists, I cross things off, and it feels great! I think Crystal and I were drawn to each other because we love the feeling of accomplishment, and we thrive on turning big problems into tiny, solvable problems. Our company slogan is “We Manage Your Projects,” but behind the scenes, we like to say that it’s “We Get Sh*t Done.” We are productive and effective, and because we are energetic and we have a fabulous team, we’re always excited to learn more and do more.
People who get more done are organized. They prioritize, they make tough calls, they delegate, they plan their routes, and they are effective. You can give them something extra to do, then watch them recalculate their workload to adjust. They also ask smart questions: why, when, how, what’s more important? And sometimes even “can it happen tomorrow?” because often that task will slot more perfectly into the next day’s schedule. Essentially, they make the most of their time.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your time:
1. See the Big Picture.
Think about your biggest priorities, the things that have to happen no matter what, then list what else is coming up on the horizon that you want to be ready for. Perhaps you have a work deadline at the end of the month, or a dinner party next weekend to pull together. Perhaps you have a series of client meetings to attend, a new skill to learn, or a series of small work assignments to tackle. Maybe the kids need to be at a summer camp every morning this week, or you have a book club meeting in three weeks and you need to be ready.
People who are effective and achieve a lot know that they don’t need to do things singlehandedly. They readily hand things over to people whom they trust who are happy to help out. Do you have a teammate who can help prep your meetings or who is ready to take on additional tasks and responsibility? Can you enlist your friends to help with the dinner party, or your parents to help with summer kid duties? Part of delegating is taking the time to teach and trust: how do you explain the results you want and give up responsibility to others, so that you can feel good about giving the work away? And how do you provide encouragement and effective feedback so that the results are better and more predictable each time?
It’s key to know what has to get done, what should get done, and what can be left to another time or not done at all. There is a helpful grid, created by Stephen Covey, that is used often in business situations, but it works anytime you want help identifying your must haves vs your nice to haves. Essentially, the grid helps you divide tasks along two qualities, importance and urgency. It looks like this:
Tasks that are both urgent and important are obviously ones to focus on right away, but what about all of the other things pulling at your time? Items that are important but not urgent are very much worth doing, and better still, they can be the key to long-term planning and to solving problems before they happen. Urgent but not important tasks are often last-minute things that other people want from you, or items that might be well-suited to give to someone else. Lastly, jobs that are neither urgent nor important (which are often the items on your to-do list that just never seem to get crossed off) are sometimes not worth doing at all – it can be scary, but taking a minute to remember why they’re on your list in the first place, and giving yourself permission to “dump” some of them, will feel great and free up your time for higher priorities.
The calendar (paper, online, or both) can be your friend. An effective way to tackle a big project is to break it into smaller tasks, and then set aside time to accomplish each one. For example, let’s say you have a deadline to deliver a report in two weeks. If you calculate the time it will take to do your research, write up your notes, draft a report, review it (or have someone else read it), and complete a final version, you can schedule each of these pieces in order, with breathing time in between in case you need a break, or in case something goes sideways, so that you aren’t rushing to complete them all at the last minute.
5. Roll with it.
Life is unpredictable and priorities change, people need things, sh*t happens. As Robert Burns said, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” and sometimes all a busy person can do is make the best of it. The more you understand your priorities, the more you can schedule and delegate, the better prepared you will be to readjust as needed. And don’t forget the power of a sense of humour, as well as the ability to apologize if you’ve missed something or messed something up; no one gets everything right all of the time.
Lately the word “busy” has gotten some bad press. Most of us have worked alongside people who are continuously overwhelmed and unable to finish their own tasks or help others, because their to-do pile has overwhelmed them like a swarm of bees. That’s not the kind of “busy” that Mr. Franklin is referring to, of course – that’s chaos. Don’t give those folks something important to do – you may not see it done well, or even at all. Plus they will look so ruffled and sad that you’ll probably just take it back in a week, dust it off, and do it yourself anyway.
Franklin is talking about the kind of busy person who effectively achieves their goals, thinks of new ideas, tries them out, and keeps what works. The kind of person who inspires the phrase “how does she do it all??” Someone who completes their work, runs their errands, and still creates time for life/kids/reading/helping/cooking/happy hour. Not all in the same day sometimes, and not without the occasional calamity, but you get the idea!
How can you start taking some easy steps towards being a busy person who gets things done?