The adventure starts when Alice encounters a strange White Rabbit, who takes a watch out of his waistcoat pocket and mutters, “Oh my fur and whiskers! I’m late, I’m late I’m late!”
Curious, because she cannot understand what the rabbit could possibly be late for, Alice tries to stop him. But the White Rabbit ignores her, “No time to say hello, goodbye! I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!” Alice sprints after him and asks him to wait, but the White Rabbit responds, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, I’m overdue. I’m really in a stew. No time to say goodbye, hello! I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”
As the story goes on, Alice meets the White Rabbit several times, but the question WHERE he was running late to, has never been answered.
Similar, for many of us “I’m late, I’m busy, I don’t have time” have turned into a life mantra. We are always in a hurry. Always stressed out about not being able to meet upcoming deadlines. Always busy running somewhere, doing something, meeting someone.
We learn time management tricks so we can “squeeze” the maximum out of every second and still feel a chronic lack of time. We learn to multitask, because we want to get more things done and then we unlearn multi-tasking, because we realize that our focus and productivity is suffering. We bury ourselves under multiple obligations, numerous must-do tasks and unresolved problems until we can no longer see the light.
This is what I call “the White Rabbit syndrome”.
When you feel that you are “in a stew”, all you do is react and get carried away by it. Your thoughts are focused on avoiding danger. You have no time to think WHY and WHERE you are going.
How to overcome the White Rabbit syndrome?
1. Prioritize. I am sure that you have heard this advice before. So have I. Many-many times. And yet once in a while I find myself stressing over something that will not matter in a week’s time or getting distracted by some insignificant problem. Identifying your priorities is a crucial part of your success and productivity. If you are spending your energy anyway, you might as well be spending it on worth-while tasks.
2. Align your actions with your goals. Any activity that does not make you any happier, help you grow, or improve your quality of life, steals your time and drains your energy. What is your most important goal? Now take a look at your to-do list. Are there any tasks that will bring you closer to it? Put a star next to them and cross off anything that is either 1) irrelevant, 2) could be delegated or 3) postponed for a few days. Aligning your goals with your actions is what successful people and motivational coaches call “having laser-like focus”.
3. Do not cheat yourself. Generally speaking there are two types of tasks: 1) ones that seem easy and gratifying, but that are less important in the long run and 2) ones that do not bring immediate satisfaction, because they may look challenging or boring, but that pay off in the future. Usually given a choice, we prefer to start with little easy-to handle tasks and leave the bigger, most important ones for last. It gives us a sense of accomplishment, numbs our sense of guilt, because let’s face it, we stay busy doing something and at the same time easy tasks serve as a perfect excuse to postpone hard work for later.
Be honest with yourself! Pick your 3 most important tasks (note: I said important, not urgent) and do them first thing in the morning. That way you will get your sense of accomplishment, triple your productivity, and leave yourself plenty of time to do whatever you want.
4. Learn from dancing. I recently signed up for Salsa classes. While professional dancers make it look VERY complicated, in essence Salsa is no more than a step forward and a step back, with a rock in between. It goes like this: step-step-step-pause – step-step-step – pause. The same principle can be applied to goal-setting, time-management or productivity concepts. Instead of just sprinting forward at breakneck speed without thinking, take a couple of small steps and then pause to reflect on your actions and monitor your progress. Pauses are crucial to regain your strengths, receive feedback, and make necessary adjustments in your initial plan.
5. Do not over think. I have just talked about pausing, planning and reflecting on what you are doing and why they are important. But be careful not to fall into another extreme. Analysis paralysis is just as bad as White Rabbit syndrome, because neither brings you any significant results. You do not have to figure out every little detail of your journey. Just keep the final destination in mind and keep moving in this direction!
6. Do not confuse motion with action. Motion does not equal action. Just like action by itself does not equal progress, growth or achievements. Do not mistake one for another. A hamster runs from 5 to 20 miles every night in its wheel, but its location does not change. It is still safely tucked in its little cage. Similar staying busy 18 hours a day, does not guarantee that you are moving forward or stepping out of your comfort zone.
“It’s not so much HOW busy you are, but WHY you are busy.” ~ Mary O’Connor