Super busy. Crazy busy. Overloaded. A to-do list that’s a mile long. Busyness has become a cult in Western culture. Maybe that’s because humans are hardwired with a bias toward action. Maybe it’s because it feels satisfying to cross items off that to-do list. Or maybe it’s because we operate under a self-imposed feeling that we should always be doing something. Idleness is bad. Don’t want to waste time!
The irony is, of course, that busyness does not portend a higher degree of productivity. In fact, being super-crazy-busy often correlates to reduced productivity. Busyness is often a symptom of one of my pet peeves, which is Worry About Things Which Do Not Matter. Busyness has been compounded by technology and is primarily responsible for why North Americans are working more hours than before, but are accomplishing less.
But my boss wants to see that I’m busy! If I have time to read an article online, then she will think that I don’t have enough work, and she will want me to create a new spreadsheet for her!
This is a totally valid point. Micromanagers LOVE busywork. Micromanagers are not about results. Micromanagers are about activity. They like monthly reports that track the amount of time spent on various tasks. Outcomes aren’t that important. They contribute largely to this Cult of Busy. You may work for a crummy boss who doesn’t value results and productivity, but that doesn’t mean you need to toe that line.
What if the 3 minutes you spend reading that article gives you an idea on how to solve a complex business problem? Or the 10 minutes you “wasted” chatting with a colleague about a book you both recently read could lead to the development of a productive work relationship. If you want to break away from the Cult of Busy and truly become focused on getting things done, you need to reframe your thinking. You need to think in terms of goals first, tasks second. Then, rank the goals:
- Important and urgent
- Important but not urgent
- Not important but urgent
- Neither urgent nor important
Plan your work accordingly. Goals that are both important and urgent lead to a profitable outcome. Those which are neither urgent nor important simply take up time. Think about your goals in terms of ROI. Can you come up with a more profitable or productive goal or task? Minimize distractions and focus on your goals. And please, reduce the amount of time spent in meetings! If you’ve just had yet another meeting to go over a spreadsheet, but you still don’t understand the business problems or profitability issues, you’ve engaged in busy work. #Resultsarewhatmatter