It’s a fact of life in the 21st century that we’re all very busy. If you do a gut check on yourself, you’d likely admit that you are busier this year than you were last year. Every month seems to go by faster than last month, making us realize that the pace of life is accelerating, definitely not slowing down. But ask yourself, “In the five years before GM went bankrupt, were the top five executives busy every day?” The answer is yes. They were very busy. But being busy certainly didn’t help them, and it won’t help you either!
Unfortunately, it is possible to busy yourself out of business, out of relationships, and even out of life. There are countless examples of companies whose people were extremely busy but didn’t survive. Think about Blockbuster, Dell, Blackberry, Polaroid, Borders…the list is long. Being busy won’t help in a time of transformational change, as we’re in now, because all business processes are transforming before our eyes, not to mention our customers’ expectations. Therefore, rather than spending all of your time being busy, putting out fires, and managing the crisis of the day, it’s vital that you schedule time to unplug from the present, plug into your future, and identify the strategic opportunities that have already been set in motion.
Now here’s the catch-22: The problem with identifying emerging opportunities is that we’re too busy to do so. We know we should be anticipating future opportunities as well as disruptions, but we don’t have time for it. After all, you may wonder what’s the value of taking the time to strategically look at the future when everything is going to change anyway—when the world is filled with increasing uncertainties? On the surface, that seems like a valid point. But there’s actually more than enough you can be certain about that allows you to both innovate and move forward faster in a low-risk way.
Move from Being Busy In the Present to Being Strategic About the Future
In times of unprecedented change and uncertainty, you need to ask yourself, “What am I certain about?” Strategies based on uncertainty equal high levels of risk. Strategies based on certainty dramatically reduce risk and allow you to move forward in new and profitable ways.
Here’s an example of certainty. Every year, winter will turn to spring, followed by summer and then fall. That’s a certainty. In fact, there are over 300 cycles—business cycles, biological cycles, weather cycles—that allow you to accurately anticipate the future. For instance, stock prices rise and then fall, only to rise again. Frankly, you use Cyclical Change often even if you are not consciously aware of it.
In today’s technology driven world of accelerated change, it is important to understand another type of change—Linear Change. Once this type of change happens, you will not go back. For example, once you get a smart phone, you’re not going back to a dumb phone. When individuals in China park their bicycle and get a car, they are not going back to the bicycle. When people in India get refrigeration for their home, they will not go back to the old way of storing food. This is a one-way, non-cyclical change that is quite profound with many predictable opportunities as well as challenges.
As change accelerates and the pressure to keep up intensifies, the natural tendency is to try to speed up with it—to be busier. But rather than try to speed up even more, you need to slow down, stop, and think. Put aside all your current problems for a moment. Make the decision to devote a little time, on a regular basis, to looking at the Hard Trends and predictable opportunities that will happen in the near future.
In order to make the invisible future visible, make a list of both the Cyclical and Linear changes that have a high potential to impact both you and your customers and ask yourself, “What am I certain about?” Based on the certainties, what are the problems you are not having today, but will have 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 now. What is certainty telling you about those future problems and ways you might solve them now, before having them? Listen to clues that might be lying just outside your field of expertise or industry.
The fact is most of us feel there will never be a time when we’re not too busy—which is exactly why most people and companies flounder. Yes, there’s a lot to do. But you can’t live in crisis management mode forever. If you don’t do something about your busy-ness and take time to anticipate and see the opportunities all around you, you’ll never break free. You’ll simply be busier tomorrow.
Juggle Your Time Wisely
Obviously, one way to make time so you can see the opportunities is to stop juggling so many tasks. But how do you do that?
You’re juggling a lot of balls these days. You have your work ball, spouse ball, family ball, community ball, and many others. Fortunately, the work ball is made of rubber so if you drop it, it will bounce back. Many of the other balls are made of various thicknesses of glass. However, you can’t tell how thick the glass is until you drop it and see if it shatters. Therefore, you need to be careful.
If you’ve ever seen jugglers juggling balls, you’ve noticed that someone will toss the juggler another ball and then another and then another until they’ve thrown one too many for the juggler to handle. What happens at that point? Does the juggler drop just one ball? No. All the balls come down. Given the rapid pace of change, all the work you’re doing, the long hours, and your personal commitments, it’s safe to say that you’re currently juggling the maximum number of balls you can handle. Any more will surely cause you to drop everything.
This is why being strategic is so important. It’s about asking yourself, “Out of all the current balls I’m juggling, which ones are becoming less relevant in a world of transformational change?” That’s the only way you’ll know which balls to eliminate as the new ones come in. And yes, the predictable future show us that new ones are coming in, and they will continue to come in at a faster pace.
So take a look at all the things you’re juggling. There are some things that are precious that you never want to drop. Identify those. Many people do drop those balls and that’s why there are divorces, kids you can’t relate to, and all kinds of family problems. So which balls do you never want to drop?
A good idea is to make a list of the balls you’re juggling and order them in terms of relevancy, from most relevant to least. Include everything, such as publications you read, clubs or groups you belong to, specific tasks you do at work and at home, etc. Which are the most relevant? Maybe there are things you read that are really wasting your time. Perhaps you commit time to groups that are no longer meaningful or profitable for you. Maybe you do tasks that someone else can and should do.
Remember, you can only juggle so many things. Chances are you do many things “blindly” because you’ve always done it that way. But even though it’s something you’ve always juggled, today you have new and more important things that need your attention. Perhaps you can devote less time to certain things or completely remove them from your plate. We’re all creatures of habit, and in today’s transformational times, it’s time you developed some new habits—some new and better ways of doing things that are more relevant for your current reality.
After you do 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 you need to address. Only then will the busy pace of life feel worth it, and your personal and professional life will prosper.
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DANIEL BURRUS is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and business strategists, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous untapped opportunities. He is the author of Flash Foresight.