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Are you busy or are you getting things done?

Be wary of falling for the “busy traps” that snare entrepreneurs.

In the first few days of global COVID isolation, I noticed an interesting trend in my social newsfeeds. Through my global work over the past ten years, I’ve become friends with a lot of other entrepreneurs in many different countries.  Their passion and innovation is usually an amazing thing to watch on Instagram or Twitter feeds. Yet within days of lockdowns in countries like Italy, France and India, many of the same people were now organizing 6 AM Zoom workouts or hosting new online Mastermind sessions or challenging each other to start podcasts or double their blog volumes.

This flurry of immediate busyness illustrates a familiar ethos that some entrepreneurs embrace without question:  Always be do-ing. Down time is wasted time. Hustle is what we do. I’m busy – why aren’t you?  

Business thinkers and psychologists like Tim Kreider and Tony Crabbe call this “the busy trap.” It’s when we confuse being busy with being productive. We fill up our days with “work” that, in the end, doesn’t seem to move things along very much. And the hectic world of running a start-up, founders and teams are particularly susceptible.

Here are three things to consider if you want to avoid the “busy trap” and be more productive:

Are you competing on being busy?

Entrepreneurs are competitive, that’s no secret.  But if you catch yourself saying (proudly) “I’ve only had four hours sleep a night for the past few weeks”, someone else can be sure to day “that’s great – I’ve only had three!”  There are many other things you should be measuring yourself on. Glorifying unhealthy behaviors and encouraging burnout shouldn’t be one of them. 

"There are many other things you should be measuring yourself on. Glorifying unhealthy behaviors and encouraging burnout shouldn’t be one of them."

Separate what you need to do from what you’d like to do

Everyone has things with their business they like to do that they gravitate towards when things get busy. Working on them makes you feel good and gives you the appearance of moving forward.  A good tactic is to continually check in against your to-do list and ask “what needs to be done today?” instead of spending time on tasks that are the “nice to haves.”

Recognize that down time is necessary (and makes other time more productive)

It’s a natural to think that time not spent on your business is time wasted.  It’s also not true.  What would happen if you applied that logic to exercise?   If you want to run a marathon, does it make sense to run 12 hours a day, every day?  Of course not.  Instead you spend time training and balance it with time for rest and nourishment.  Entrepreneurship is the same – your brain and body need time away from the hustle to ensure you have energy when you need it, so balance yourself accordingly.

Entrepreneurs succeed because we generally work and think differently than others.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question our own behaviours that lead us into “busy traps.”  So take a moment and ensure you are avoiding being busy in favour of a healthier and more productive path.

Alex Gill Photo

Alex Gill is the Director and cofounder of the SVZ. Alex has worked on or founded several social enterprises over the years and currently moderates the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance, a global network of more than 500,000 innovators.