“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”

Thomas A. Edison
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Our addiction to busyness.

 We in modern society, especially Americans, are obsessed with keeping “busy.”  We’ve gotten so busy, in fact, that we can’t even do one thing at a time.  Now we (attempt to) do as many tasks as we can all at once and call it multitasking.

For a long time, whenever someone asked how I was doing, my standard reply was, “Busy, but good.”  Huh?  First of all, does the other person care that I’m busy, or does it just make me feel better to say I’m busy?  Second, does busy really come before good?  If it does, there’s something wrong in my life.

What is Acting with Purpose?

Now that you’ve set your goals, it’s time to act with purpose in order to achieve them.  But what does that mean?

To act with purpose means that your action (or inaction) is helping you to meet one of your goals.  It’s purpose is to better your life in some way.

Take a look at this picture.  By our modern-day standards this family is doing nothing.  But in reality, they are.  This family knows what they are doing (listening to the radio), and why they are doing it (because it’s good family fun).  They aren’t “doing” anything, but they are purposefully spending time together as a family, listening to a radio show they all enjoy.

source: Time.com

Now take a look at this picture.  This woman is a model of modern multi-tasking.  But what is her purpose?  Is she reading, talking to someone, listening to music, using her computer, eating, or watching tv?  And while this might be a staged picture, it’s not that far off.  Think of how many times you’ve answered the phone while reading a note from little Megan’s teacher and simultaneously searching Pinterest for something to make for dinner, and eating the goldfish little Max brought home in his lunch bag…

source: huffingtonpost.com

How busyness kills our purpose.

Busyness is a tricky foe because it makes you feel as though you’re doing something, when really you’re just filling your time, leaving less time for what’s important.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oHBG3ABUJU]

Of course, this video is something of a parody… or is it?  Is this Age-Related Attention Deficit Disorder, or is it Technology-Age Related ADD?

How many times have you gotten to the end of a busy day and had nothing to show for it?  You got online to read your favorite blog (wink, wink), and were distracted by Facebook.  You went to pay the bills, but your phone beeped and pulled you away.  You searched for recipes for dinner and got distracted by a Pinterest tip on how to make bikini wax out of leftover Christmas candles.

At the end of the day, you’re exhausted but you can’t think of a thing that you actually accomplished.  You didn’t get to read your blog, the bills never got paid, and you ended up picking up Chinese for dinner.

How to get un-busy

Do one thing at a time.  Most experts agree that there’s really no such thing as multi-tasking.  Really, what you’re doing is micro-tasking; spending very small amounts of time on one task, then switching to another, resulting in a lack of focus on any one thing.

One way to stop multi-tasking is to use a timer for each task.  Set it for 15 minutes and do one thing for those 15 minutes.  That’s particularly good for large tasks.  Another, for small tasks, is to simply keep working until the task is done.

Unplug.  The internet is a powerful tool.  It’s also a source of great distraction.  With literally anything at your fingertips, it’s easy to get lost in the world wide web for hours at a time.  Try setting times during the day when technology is not allowed.  Use tools like the News Feed Eradicator extension when you’re doing work on the computer and don’t want to get drawn in to social media distractions.

Meditate.  You don’t have to be a Yogi to meditate.  You don’t even have to do it “right.”  Meditation is just quiet, focused breathing when you are actively un-busy.  It’s difficult, but when you meditate you don’t mentally run through your to-do list.  You don’t work on how to say something to little Teagan’s teacher so you don’t sound like “that mom.”  You just sit, and breathe.

Plan your down time.  Acting with purpose doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun or all of your time should be scheduled a week in advance and clearly align with a personal goal.  Having fun can be purposeful.  Napping can be purposeful.  Doing nothing can be purposeful.

Also, if you know that every afternoon at 3 pm you need a break, plan one as part of your day.  Give yourself 15 minutes to check Facebook, take a walk, chat with colleagues, or meditate.  Set a timer so you don’t lose the rest of your day.

Clean up your space.  A cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind.  It’s very hard to be productive in a place that is in disarray.  Every envelope, paper, and pile is a reminder of other things you need to do, and they’ll distract you from what you’re doing at that moment.

Of course, while it would be nice if we were able to plan out our days and make every moment purposeful, that’s not how real life works.  Stuff happens.  Emergencies happen.  Distractions happen.  Do the best you can and remember that acting with purpose doesn’t have to be planned.

Assignment: Take some time to think about what’s preventing you from acting with purpose.  Create a plan to minimize distraction and stop being busy.

Next week: Going with the Flow

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