We live in the age of busyness. We have never been busier nor so desperate to stay busy and to communicate our busyness.
There are multiple ways to stay busy. The availability and increasingly low cost of mobile technology brings huge benefits. We have access to our work and social network at our fingertips in almost any location. We have instant access to vast amounts of information. We can maintain relationships that would have floundered had they been dependent on land lines and letter writing.
But be under no allusion. It comes at price.
Like sharks who must keep swimming lest they drown we are all adapting to being permanently busy.
The cost of being busy can be measured in 2 ways. Firstly, there is the cost to organisations. Costs can be direct as a result of people being busy rather than productive, more of which later. The costs can also be indirect though such as increased workplace absence from burnt out employees, decreased retention rates. As we learn more about fatigue and its impact on cognitive function, we realise that it could be errors made by frazzled staff or executives making important choices whilst working upwards of 60 hours in a week.
The second but not lesser cost is the human cost. The stress of never feeling finished, frenzied races to deadlines, missed opportunities with friends and family, health issues, exhaustion, increased errors, less creative thinking the list goes on. We can no longer pretend to not realise the impact of too much stress in the workplace on our employees.
Maybe it will become an offence to be a ‘knowing permitter’ of too much stress at work if we really want to protect employees from harm.
I have certainly been a ‘knowing permitter’ and a willing participant in the stress building game of being busy.
I’m not sure when I became aware that when people asked me how I was my answer had moved from ‘great’ to ‘busy’. Delivered with the same sense of happiness and achievement.
I’m task focused and productive. The type of person who adds tasks to a list just to cross them off if I managed to squeeze in extra, unplanned tasks that day. I like to be busy. Busy = great in my book.
Does busy = productive though? Well like all good answers it depends. A never-ending cycle of too busy is stressful enough. Disconnect it from productivity and you have a ticking time bomb.
Many busy people are productive. They are busy getting things done. The bustle around them is part of their persona and creates an energy around them which people want to engage with. It is a keep part of their ability to get things done. They have it in balance and know when to stop being busy and rest, play or relax.
What about the people who are always busy but never productive?
Highly bureaucratic or less mature organisations can be especially adept at fostering this. If you wish to emulate this style, there are some key features that you will want to build in.
I remember the new Chief Financial Officer of a large organisation talk about personal effectiveness as a leader. It was a good, inspiring talk with lots of personal tips. He promoted a limit of 2 meetings per day.
I asked him years later if he was able to maintain that. He diplomatically explained that his executive assistant worked very hard to make the most efficient use of his time. I suspect that was a ‘No’. He did say that it was still important to find time to not be in meetings.
If you are on your way to the 11th meeting of the day, consider how productivity and effectiveness may be declining. Reflect on how the least satisfying form of busy is the the busy that feels like you are working hard to achieve no progress. Don’t dwell on it too long if the 12th meeting awaits. Take some time off being busy to plan how to move from busy to productive.
Below are some top tips to help. Some are mine and some are harvested from my productivity role models who have graciously shared their solutions.
Busy to productive tips
There are several books which talk further and in more detail about applying this methodology.
Try these tips and share them with others. If you have your own ways of changing busy to productive, I would enjoy hearing them so feel free to share them in the comments.
The good news is that productivity spreads faster than busyness as the majority of people come to work intent on doing a good job. Success is a huge motivator for people. The only successful projects I have worked on or with are those that focus on productivity over busyness and busy boasting.
Except for the people busy being busy we all want to be more productive in our work life. It makes us feel more successful, more engaged and leaves more time and energy for our lives outside of work. Our understanding of work life balance and how the success of one has a positive impact on the other has never been better understood or acknowledged so perhaps it really is time to get less busy.
And as for sharks well, the reality is that 94% of sharks don’t need to keep moving to avoid drowning. Neither do we.