Busyness Business

Last night I was studying and running through practice problems. You’ve probably been there too – when you instinctively know the answer, but deep down you recognize that you only know the answer because of some very superficial context clue. In reality, you have no idea what the answer actually means, just that it satisfies the question at hand.

Years ago (in the pre smart phone days) I used to carry a physical calendar around in an effort to stay organized between multiple freelance jobs. “Where do I have to be next,” was a very common question. Today, that’s a mix of my Outlook calendar for work and my Reminders app for home stuff / to do lists. Like the answer to the question that I know but don’t understand, sometimes I find myself booked so densely that I wonder what this busyness business will actually produce.

We all “know” that busy does not necessarily mean productive, yet I see myself and many of my friends, coworkers, and peers bleary eyed and crawling out of this trap all of the time.  We’re doing a lot of stuff, but how is it actually helping us? There’s that Bill Gates quote that says, “we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” How come it’s so hard to tip that estimation scale back into balance with the right activities in the right places?

Shane Parrish at Farnam Street recently shared a post titled “Understanding Speed and Velocity: Saying ‘No’ to the Non-Essential,” and he nailed this detail: “Velocity and speed are different things. Speed is the distance traveled over time. I can run around in circles with a lot of speed and cover several miles that way, but I’m not getting anywhere. Velocity measures displacement. It’s direction-aware.”

I can zip through studying with speed, but stopping to dive into a poorly understood concept is the only way to achieve velocity. I can fill up my calendar, but unless I understand the context of each item deeply – NOT superficially – I will not achieve velocity. I’m not doing this to run in circles, I’m trying to get somewhere.

The key to directing our efforts at the change we want to create in the next 10 years is in understanding the difference between speed and velocity as it relates to our activities. If we get it right, that awareness can change the way we answer questions and how we build our schedules.

The first step is awareness.

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