too-busyEvery small business owner has a song they sing silently to themselves. It goes something like this:

“I’m too busy, yes indeed
I’m too busy to breathe
Everything would be just fine
If only I had more time”

Except that this song is a lie. I’ll bet that you don’t need more time. Yes, you work hard. And indeed, you have a lot of things on your plate. But before you tell me that you are too busy, please answer the following questions:

  • A dear old friend comes to town for the first time in ten years. Do you blow this person off because you are too busy?
  • Your partner gets sick and needs to go to the doctor. Do you make them take a taxi because you are too busy?
  • You finally get your wish and get more time. You take an entire week off. Do you (a) end that week beaming with pride about all the things you accomplished, or (b) feel it flew by way too fast?

If your answers were no, no, and (b) respectively, your problem isn’t having too little time. Your problem is that you need a system to make use of the time you have.

Systems are planned, willpower-free strategies that painlessly help you accomplish anything you want. They have three components to them: accountability, rigid boundaries, and intrinsic motivation. Here are some examples of these from my own life:

Accountability: I have off-the-charts ADHD, and to this day have no discernible attention span. So how did I manage to graduate from engineering school when I was young? Every night at 7 PM I met four of my friends at the library to do our homework together. I wouldn’t dream of not showing up, or not working once I was there, because that would make me look stupid. So this system painlessly pulled me all the way to my degree. (As a postscript, when I later moved to Seattle and went to graduate school, I flunked out immediately – with no friends to work with, I suddenly never had enough time to get my work done.)

Rigid boundaries: Nowadays, I often put in 60-hour weeks as a consultant and a therapist. But I have continually cranked out one published book after another, every 18 months or so, like clockwork since the 1990s. How? Every night I would promise myself to write eight lousy sentences. Two paragraphs. That’s all. Easy peasy. If I did this, I was done for the night. But once I got started, out usually came 500 words or so. And every Saturday afternoon was my happy place to write, good for another couple thousand words. All in all, it felt like the amount of time I spent writing during my busy week was “nothing.”

Intrinsic motivation: When I went back to graduate school to become a therapist in my 50s, I actually graduated at the top of my class. What was different this time? I loved the subject matter so much that I jumped on most assignments like a possum on a wet sack of groceries. I finished many of these assignments on airplanes, in hotels, or in the passenger seat of my car on business trips. Once again, it wasn’t work and didn’t seem to take much time.

Any one of these three components can be enough to create a good system. Put two or three of them together, and you often have an incredibly powerful system. So take something that you really wish you could accomplish – stir in generous amounts of accountability, rigid boundaries, or intrinsic motivation – and watch whatever you want to do take flight.