Have you noticed how being busy has become a badge of status in life and particularly in the workplace? As someone who is about to go on holiday I am looking forward to a time of rest and refreshment away from this busyness. Being busy is seductive; it makes us think we are being productive when in fact the evidence is pointing the other way. In fact, being busy is having more of an impact on you than you would think.
Let’s take one example – creativity. When is it that you get those brilliant ideas? Is it in the middle of the 101 things you have going on in the business? No, more often than not it’s when you are in the shower or taking a walk. The times when you are not engaged and yet your mind is still working on the problems you are looking for solutions for. They pop up when you are not pre-occupied.
Why is it we get caught up in this vortex of busyness?
Rasmus Hougaard & Jacqueline Carter offer up the following, which may give you a clue:
“Being busy is addictive—and by addictive, we mean physically addictive, like a nicotine or alcohol addiction. It may sound overly dramatic, but it’s true. When we complete a task, even an insignificant task like sending an email, dopamine is released in the brain. Dopamine is a naturally produced and highly addictive hormone. When released in the brain, it provides a sense of enjoyment and gratification.”
The question to answer as you lead is whether the busyness is productive?
What is driving the need to be busy? Could it be as simple as the fact that we reward busyness? When people stay late or get in early the hard work is rewarded.
“It is not enough to be busy… the question is: what are we busy about? Henry David Thoreau
A Different Way of Thinking
1. Leader Goes First
The recent pandemic took people out of the office and into remote working. Interestingly in the early stages of being remote people became busier and their working day elongated. For a culture of being busy to change it must start with the leaders. You must model the behaviour you want to see. If your team see you picking up work emails when you are on holiday, then you set the tone for what others will do.
2. Innovation & Creativity
The truth is that this being busy, running faster and faster, being too task oriented has a negative impact on your mental well-being. People need downtime to access other areas of their brain – the part that generates new ideas and innovations. The focus on the task is using parts of our brain associated with the present. Building in and modelling breaks so people can dream and think is key to coming up with new and effective ways of doing things.
3. Reward Output Not Activity
The culture of busyness is not an easy one to change. The temptation is to let things continue. However, research is suggesting it has a detrimental effect on business. So, what can you do? You could switch to rewarding the output. In other words it is not how long it takes to do something it is the fact that it happens. In other words it is about productivity; it focuses on the product or service being delivered. Any changes will take time but when the long term well-being of employees is at stake it is worth doing.
The cost of doing nothing is that your employees will vote with their feet. New generations coming into the workplace want different things including looking after their well-being.
The benefits are simple: your organisation will be more sustainable and the work too.
“Never mistake activity for achievement.” John Wooden
To talk to me about culture change you can email me on email@example.com
Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash