Busy, not burned-out


I was gratified to read some of the recommendations in Joann Lublin's article, "Making Sure 'Busy' Doesn't Lead to Burnout" in the Wall Street Journal last week. Turns out that a lot of people are championing the ideas that I've been preaching about for awhile:

For some time-starved managers, keeping a detailed calendar often makes more sense than making daily to-do lists.

This advice echoes my argument that to-do lists don't work because they agglomerate items with disparate urgencies and complexities, and they don't provide any context: how long will the tasks take, and how much time do you really have available.

The article also recommends that people

prepare a weekly plan for tackling tasks tracked by their boss, such as regular revenue reports—and scheduling of daily items that eventually will land them in trouble if not completed.

This advice, of course, is nothing more than my suggestion to use the calendar as kanban, which enables you to automatically "pull" work forward at the right time -- and to do so automatically, without the cognitive burden of having to remember to do something at a certain time.

The article also points out the danger of taking on too many problems that aren't your own:

Consider [urgency addict] Liz Bishop. In January 2011, the senior vice president of Heffernan Insurance Brokers in Petaluma, Calif., was juggling 280 emails a day and often distracted by colleagues' crises. "I love solving problems,'' Ms. Bishop says. "That's emotional cookies for me." Meanwhile, her customer revenue had plunged 50% during the recession, and Ms. Bishop, whose clients were mainly in the construction industry, found herself without time to bring in new clients.

This situation reminds me of Jamie Flinchbaugh's advice that our direct reports' problems are not our problems:

Your problem is why is the preventive maintenance program not working that allowed all those pieces of equipment to go down in the first place. Or why are your customers not seeing the value proposition. Or do we have a planning problem or an execution problem that allows so many projects to get behind schedule. You have unique problems, and until you understand that fact, and work on the appropriate problems for your role, little progress can be made.

There are no Copernican insights here, which is both good and bad: you don't have to spend money, buy new equipment, or hire new people. On the other hand, you have to  use your calendar assiduously, delegate appropriately, and learn to address system-level issues.

Nothing new -- but not necessarily easy to do.

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