We live in a society that glorifies the busy, the frenetic, the over-scheduled, the manic. It’s as if  there were some badge of honor being handed out to the people who are the “busiest” and that if our calendars aren’t jam-packed with appointments from well before dawn until well after dusk we must not want “it” very badly. I’ve been studying this phenomenon for well over a decade now and I have a very simple question:

If we’re all so busy getting “it” done day after day, why are there so many people out there who are miserable, unfulfilled, and feel like failures?

I hear the same refrain every day in my executive coaching practice: “Deb, I’m so BUSY! I do so much every single day… I work SO HARD, but I don’t feel like I’m making any progress toward my goals whatsoever! What am I doing wrong?” This is where my job gets really interesting. I have seen it over and over and over again – heck, I have lived it myself – people who are incredibly successful by any objective measure, but who feel like they are marking time through life, never making any meaningful progress toward the life they say they want.

Look, I get it… We all have to do lists as long as our arms and I have news for you – that’s not likely to ever change!  The most successful people tend to have the longest to do lists, not the shortest. However, the secret to their success is where they choose to focus their time and attention in any given day. Yes, they may have a ponderous to do list, but on what items from that list are they investing their precious time and energy?

See, most people look at their to do list and start cherry-picking the easy things in an effort to get MORE done. The thought is that the more items that get checked off the list, the better. And that’s great, but the easy stuff is not likely to make that much of an impact. The things that move the success needle and advance us down the path toward the achievement of our goals are the hard things… the time-consuming things… the uncomfortable things… the very things that we don’t FEEL like doing. We procrastinate the hard stuff – the stuff that truly makes a difference between where we are and where we want to be.

The thing is that there is no magic bullet that takes us from the couch to the life of our dreams. One of my favorite quotes goes something like this: “Success and opportunity are missed by most people because they are dressed in overalls and look like work.” (Thomas Edison) So, we end up filling up reams of paper with to do lists teeming with things that keep us “busy” but not necessarily “productive.”

Results Don’t Lie!

If you are not where you want to be in some area of your life, then it’s time to examine your systems. What are you doing each day? How are you spending your time? How do you measure success? How do you know if you are moving the success needle or just marking time through each week – busy, but not making much of an impact? How do you discover what you really SHOULD be  investing your time in?

When I am working with my coaching clients, I examine the things they keep putting off. Are there items that have been on your to do list for days, weeks, months (YEARS??) that you KNOW would change the game if only you could find the time to do them? What are the things you keep saying “I should…” over and over again, but just keep putting off?

Where Would You Be If Every Time You Said, “I Should…,” You Actually DID?

Look, I know that YOU know how you need to be spending your time.  You KNOW what you need to do to accomplish your goals – you just don’t necessarily FEEL like doing those things, right? It’s so much easier to busy yourself with the 10-15 “easy” things on your list than to hunker down and tackle the big, scary game-changing thing. And so that’s what most people do day after day, month after month, year after year and then wonder why nothing ever changes.

A Challenge

Here’s my challenge to you: Remove yourself from the equation for the time being. Play coach with me. If you had a friend or a colleague who was struggling to reach the same goals you are currently pursuing, how would you advise THEM to invest their time? What tasks would you suggest they spend MOST of their time on?

Make a list of the most important things. Remember, you don’t have to do ANYTHING on this list – you’re just identifying how your friend could be more productive and effective in the use of their time. Take some time with this challenge and really dig into it. I have no doubt that there will be some huge a-ha moments.


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