What To Do When There’s Nothing To Do

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As a recovering workaholic, my identity sometimes gets caught up in what I’m doing. Therefore, if I’m doing nothing, I feel like nothing.

I have this compulsion to always be busy…occupied…active…in motion…hustling. I get anxious when my to do list is finally empty or there isn’t enough work to fill up my time. I have difficulty taking true vacations because I’m either burned out or I feel like it’s a waste of time. And I didn’t use my sick days when I had a traditional 9-to-5.

As a result, I find myself creating busy work when there is nothing specific to do. To feel like I’m doing something, I create meaningless work to fill the space and time and my sense of importance.

But one of the main differences is that high performers apply:
  1. the right effort
  2. to the right action
  3. at the right time.

Whereas workaholics apply:

  1. high effort
  2. to any action
  3. all of the time.
The negative implications manifest themselves during the unstructured hours in the week between meetings, meals, calls, and travel. It’s the time that Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook don’t capture that gets wasted.

Lately, I’ve been learning how to be still during those times and use spaces of nothingness to determine the next best action I can take to create the most value possible. This stillness involves being observant with my eye, ear, and intuition to identify one of the following 6 ways to worthy work:

1. Worry

Where do you see worry? What is keeping you, your CEO, boss, or clients up at night?

Anywhere you see, hear, or feel worry means that uncertainty is present. Uncertainty means risks. And the goal of any sustainable business is suck the risks out of the business. Business want certainty around revenues, returns, customers, employees, suppliers, and markets. Therefore, doing something that increases certainty is a high value activity.

2. Won’ts

What is the one thing that you, your colleagues, or competitors won’t do?

Rather than focusing on what other want you to do, identifying what others won’t do oftentimes leads to a high value activity that makes you distinct and creates above average results. Perhaps the other sales reps stop calling after 3 follow-ups but you won’t and you find that that increases your sales. Or perhaps your colleagues won’t invest in their professional development or hire a coach with their own money, but you will. Willingness to do what others won’t can be a competitive advantage.

Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.

3. Waste

Where do you see wasted time, talent, money, or other resources?

Waste means inefficiency and since business is an interdependent cycle, one inefficiency tends to lead others. More inventory than needed means more storage which means higher rents which means less profit. Waste is such a profit killer that in the 1980s, Motorola developed six sigma, a set of tools and techniques for process improvement, to reduce it as much as possible. Since then, many more companies have adopted this practice. If you can find one wasteful process and turn it around, that would be time well spent.

4. Waiting

Where do you see waiting by clients, colleagues, or the company?

Waiting looks harmless, but it can also be a profit killer. When a customer has to wait too long at a restaurant or retail store, they may leave. When an employee is waiting for information, they are being unproductive, yet they are still being paid. When the company has to wait for supplies, it can’t make what it was created to make. A state-of-the-art billion dollar factory and hundreds of employee can be rendered useless if one necessary piece is late. Reducing waiting accelerates the business cycle.

5. Wishing

Where do you hear wishing by clients, colleagues, or the company?

You may be in a meeting and hear your boss say “I wish we had a [blank] for that.” Or you may be talking to potential customers and hear them say “I wish there was a way to [blank].” These are buzz words that a need exists that has yet to be addressed or that the wisher doesn’t know that a solution is available to them. “Your wish is my command,” is not just for genies—it’s a mindset of high performers.

6. Wrong

Where do you see something wrong that needs to be fixed?

“It’s always been that way,” usually comes up in conversations where some sort of internal process is wrong. Why do we have to fill out this form and then input it online too? Things like this don’t make sense. And while they may not be directly related to your job description, when solved, the lives of everyone you work with become easier so that they can focus on doing their job right instead of complaining about what’s wrong.

In any given moment, we are either doing business or being busy. I find when I am engaged in the highest value creation and exhibiting high performance, I’m usually focused on one of the 6 ways to worthy work. Ensuring that we spend our time looking for and working on these profit killers will improve the likelihood that we are doing business rather than simply being busy.

Wishing you more happy hours,