Here is an extraction of a conversation that took place in my lift this morning on the way to work.

Me: “Good morning, How are you?”
Other guy: “Flat out mate … real busy, real busy”
Me (silently thinking to myself): “Hmmm, shouldn’t have bothered asking … can you tell me something interesting. After all, do you think declaring you’re busy actually mean you are in fact busy?”
Other guy (after the above silence): “How about you mate, busy? Flat out, hey?”
Me: “Not right now, I’m in the lift talking to you … just had a coffee with a friend.”
Other guy (silently thinking to himself): “Geez … this bloke’s lazy. He wouldn’t survive in my ‘busy’ organisation.”

This is a common discussion. I regularly meet people who, like a badge of honour, declare themselves busy at the first possible chance. In business, we often see this notion then filter through organisations to the point that there is never-ending random activity and a whole lot of ‘busy-ness’. Often this ‘busy-ness’ then kills creativity, focus and productivity … and god forbid, people get rewarded for ‘busy-ness’.

Hence I never randomly tell people I am busy.

Personally, I don’t perceive myself as busy, so if I’m not busy then, what am I?

A few weeks ago, I thought about the various states I think I am in during the week and how it relates to performing different types of work. Doing this exercise is interesting because it ensures you start functioning correctly for the specific types of work you are doing. For example, it’s no point been in a state of busy-ness when you are trying to crack a complex problem.

Here’s my list:

  • Busy: I think this is only about 20% of my time … when my diary is completely full in 30 minute increments and multi-tasking is the norm. Generally, the ‘busy’ time is not my most productive. But it is necessary.
  • Focused: This is critical time when specific topics require focus. This can be meetings, discussions, phone calls, emails etc … everything focused on getting something done. People who can’t focus often can’t deliver … it is the most productive time.
  • On a deadline: Not too much fun … I put the ‘do not disturb’ sign up because I need to deliver something. It’s slightly different to focus because I’m constrained by arbitrary deadlines and more often than not on my own.
  • Networking or building for the future: This is a time to be curious, and engaged … if you appear ‘busy’ at these meetings you will appear disengaged and potentially aloof. Not to mention you’ll probably be late.
  • Creative: Devote time boundaries to solving complex problems … generally I don’t solve them but normally we make them better. This is either an individual or group task.
  • On a break: Go grab a coffee and talk to someone different. Leave your ‘busy’ friends to spin their wheels and clear your head.

Each week and day has different amounts of time devoted to each. The key thing I’ve found is to ensure your mental state is appropriate for what you’re trying to achieve. Less busy, more focus!

What are your work ‘states’? Let me know if you have a better list.

Here is a list of some great elevator conversation starters.

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