By guest authors Daniel Burrus and John David Mann
Two questions. First: Are you busier now than you were a year ago? You don’t even need to check your calendar: a quick gut check tells you the answer. Sure you are. Every month seems to go by faster than the last.
And second: In the five years before GM went bankrupt, were the top five executives busy every day? Sure they were. We all are. But being busy certainly didn’t help them, and it won’t help you either.
It’s a fact of life in the twenty-first century: we’re all very busy. Unfortunately, it is possible to busy yourself right out of business. Blockbuster, Chrysler, Polaroid, Borders … the list is long.
Being busy won’t help today because we’re in a time of transformational change, and all business processes are transforming before our eyes. Spending your time putting out fires and managing the crisis of the day won’t work anymore, because the biggest problems you need to solve are the ones that haven’t happened yet. And the biggest opportunities you face are the ones that are coming tomorrow, next week, next year.
IBM says 40% of their profitability today comes from products that were impossible four years ago. For Apple, it’s 70%. And the pace of innovation is still accelerating. That means the majority of the answers you’ll need to be implementing four years from now reside in products or services that are not clamoring for your attention today — and that you need to start seeing NOW.
Being busy won’t help. You need to start being anticipatory, solving tomorrow’s problems and seeing tomorrow’s opportunities today.
Shift From Present-Busy to Future-Strategic
Now, the Catch-22: How can you possibly identify future emerging opportunities when you’re already way too busy just dealing with the issues of today?
We totally get it. You know you should be anticipating future opportunities, but you just don’t have time for it. Despite best intentions, the demands on your time keep increasing. But there will never be a time when we’re not too busy. That is exactly why most companies — and most people — are foundering right now.
As change accelerates and the pressure to keep up intensifies, the natural tendency is to try to speed up with it, to be busier. Instead, we need to slow down, stop and think.
The only way it’s going to happen is if you put it in your calendar. Schedule concrete time — an hour a week, for starters — to unplug from the present, plug into your future, and identify the strategic opportunities that are already heading your way. Put aside all your current problems for a moment and focus on what lies ahead. Make your date with the future a priority. Book it as an appointment you can’t afford not to keep.
In other blog posts, we’ve talked about the difference between soft trends and hard trends — future maybes and future will-bes. In order to make the invisible future visible, make a list of all the hard trends — future facts — that have a high potential to impact both you and your customers. Ask yourself, “What am I certain about?” Listen to clues that might be lying just outside your field of expertise or industry.
Then ask, based on those certainties, what are the problems you will be facing in the next three to six months? The next one to three years? That’s where you need to spend your time — not on all the busy work that’s distracting you today.
One way to make time to see future opportunities is to stop trying to manage so many tasks.
These days you’re like a juggler keeping a lot of balls in the air. You have your work ball, spouse ball, family ball, community ball, and many others. Fortunately, the work ball is made of rubber: if you drop it, it will bounce back. Many of the others are made of various thicknesses of glass, and you can’t tell how thick the glass is till you drop it and see if it shatters. Therefore, you need to be careful.
What happens to a juggler when his assistant tosses him one ball too many? Does he drop just one ball? Nope. They all come tumbling down. It’s a safe bet that you’re already juggling the maximum number. It’s also a safe bet that very soon, someone will toss you another one.
That’s why being strategic is so important. It’s about asking the question: Out of all the balls you’re currently juggling, which are becoming less relevant in a world of transformational change? What can you afford to drop? Which can you not afford not to drop?
There are some so precious you never want to drop them. Many do; that’s why you see divorces, disenchanted kids and heart attacks. Start by identifying those. Then list the rest, sorted by relevance. Committees, clubs, publications you read, tasks you do at work or home, find the timewasters. Find those you can delegate. Find those you do purely out of habit … and let go of them. The future is coming at you faster and faster, and it will not wait.
After you’ve done this, will you still be busy? Yes, but it’ll be the right kind of busy. When you can be both anticipatory and strategic in all areas of your life, you can be busy based on opportunities, not based on the latest crisis nagging at you. Only then will the busy pace of life feel worth it, and your personal and professional life will prosper.