“How are you?”
No matter how many times I ask that question to many different women orbiting various galaxies of my life, the answer is almost always— with rare exception—that four-letter, empty word I have come to loathe: Busy.Try to match how busy you are with how effective you are to make the most of every hour. #LeadershipTips Click To Tweet
We give the methodical, habitual response in a culture that values kinetic energy, movement and filled schedules over substance and measurable outcomes. Overwhelmed is a preferred status. Being harried makes us feel important, urgently needed, crucial to the existence of our colleagues, organizations, families and friends. When actually it makes us less effective and less powerful.
The bigger follow-up questions I want to ask that are more satisfying are, “Busy doing what?” and “Why?”
When I probe, most women respond to that question in terms of activities that are outside of themselves. Most women who are parents respond in terms of what their children are doing—off to grade school, high school, college or their achievements in athletics or STEM. Sometimes they respond in terms of their spouses or partners.
Others respond to how their organizations are doing, the supposed selfless “we,” response about annual meetings, sales or projects. Still, a significant number of women respond in terms of their homes—recent renovations, updates or disasters such as floods, tear-downs, breakdowns and their resolutions.
Or they just respond in a blanket, negative emotional response that is hard to unpack. Or the bland universal response of, “fine.”
Yes, we are all busy. It is true that women have less free time than men, according to a new survey that claims women have 38 hours of free time a week, compared to men, who have 43 hours. The difference is because of housework.
It is also unhealthy for women to work as much as they do at home and in the workplace. A new study from Canada found that “women who worked 45 hours or more per week were 62 percent more likely to develop diabetes as compared to women who worked 35 to 40 hours,” according to 9 News.
But there is an antithesis to the busy answer, a movement afoot to not just take time off here and there, but to make the intellectual and emotional effort to examine the big picture of what we are doing and why. And to do what gives meaning. Not just to do for the sake of staying busy.
In her 2017 book, Drop the Ball: Achieving More By Doing Less, author Tiffany Dofu offers actionable advice on how she learned to recalibrate and how she “figured out what mattered most.” She also discovered, “the less I did, the more I achieved.”
Founder and CEO of The Cru, a peer coaching service for women, Dofu was a launch team member to Lean In and also Chief Leadership Officer at Levo. The mother of two also served as President of The White House Project, a Major Gifts Officer at Simmons College in Boston, and Associate Director of Development at Seattle Girls’ School.
She discovered that sacrifice was involved in dropping the ball, but asking for help and foregoing control over every minor detail was crucial.
Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead, defines in #3 of her 9 Leadership Power Tools that you can, “Define Your Own Terms—First, Before Anyone Else Does.” Feldt adds that this applies to the use of your own time. You have the power to make your time valuable, worthwhile and effective.You have the #power to make your time valuable, worthwhile and effective. #LeadershipPowerTools Click To Tweet
“Whoever sets the terms of the debate usually wins. By redefining power not as Power-Over, but as Power-To we shift from a culture of oppression to a culture of positive intention to make things better for everyone,” Felt says. “’Power-To’ is leadership.”
Becoming an effective leader and reaching the pinnacle in your career does mean you can seek shortcuts.
Nathalie Molina Niño, CEO of BRAVA Investments, and recent Take The Lead Virtual happy Hour guest, advises in her new book, LEAPFROG: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs, to at times just say no.
Molina Nino writes, “Everyone feels short on money, time and imagination at times.” But you can leapfrog over obstacles and also perform “hacks” on your routine. She suggests you say no to many things, including being the social clerk at your organization, doing all the housework and also to shouldering all the economic burdens in your household or family.
Molina Nino practices what she advises. According to Forbes, “Prior to launching BRAVA, Molina Niño led the launch of SELF MADE, the company, mobile app, learning platform curated from the NY Times best selling book, Self Made, by Telemundo’s former Entertainment President Nely Galan. Molina Niño also co-founded Entrepreneurs@Athena at the Athena Center for Leadership studies of Barnard College, with the mission of leveling the playing field for women entrepreneurs. Molina Niño continues to evolve BRAVA’s impact and reach, creating a powerful model actively shaping the future of women entrepreneurship.”
She also suggests you can get more done by scheduling rituals. “A daily meditation practice or movement session work for many, but the rituals of the successful (you!) can be wildly indisosyncratic.”
Molina Nino writes, ‘But right now, tomorrow, when you wake up in the morning, the reality is that you have to hack the system as it is.”
So within the systems we all occupy, how can you go from busy to effective? Here are some questions to ask yourself.
Is what I am busy doing helping me personally? This could mean daily exercise that you need and that improves your health, but if it is just a habit, then question if you need it. Escape and respite is necessary, but does the practice still serve you? Some women I know are so stressed by their weekly manicures that I wonder why they go so often. Ask yourself if it is something you can do less frequently and use that time to accomplish what would be more productive.
Is what I am busy doing helping my colleagues and my organization? If there is something you can delegate or train someone else to do, then you can alleviate some tension in your schedule. I have found that some daily tasks I was doing no one even noticed or utilized. No one may notice the daily emails you send to your team. Perhaps think of doing that twice weekly, or once a week. Perhaps team meetings can be fortnightly.
Is what I am busy doing helping the big picture, the larger community? Many of us volunteer on different committees and for boards and causes we believe in deeply. But are you attending meetings where little gets accomplished, and you feel your input is not needed or valued? Perhaps find another role in the organization or communicate by video conference for the meetings, saving you commuting time. If you no longer feel your contributions are needed, perhaps shift to an organization that better suits your talents.
Is what I am busy doing helping my family? You might be surprised. Here is where so many of us refuse to make shortcuts even when the shortcuts no longer make sense. For years I insisted on Sunday night dinners together at home and usually made them big productions that took hours of preparation. When I realized that I could use some time on Sundays to get ahead of my work week, and maybe delegate the preparation to my sons in rotation, or do a quick casserole, I freed up hours and started every Monday less harried. It was not about the food after all. It was about making the effort to be together.
To make shifts and adjustments in output related to outcomes and direct benefit may mean you are less busy and more effective. So maybe the next time someone asks how you are, you use a different word, one that is more thoughtful and reflects the meaning of your efforts, far beyond the simple four-letter word.Next time someone asks how you are, try using a different word than #busy, one that is more thoughtful and reflects the meaning of your efforts. Click To Tweet