Outside of being number 1 reason in the introverts handbook for avoiding people, busyness has become the default mode for most of us. In the workplace, it has become an expectation that you need to be busy, otherwise you don’t have enough to do. I’ve seen this unspoken culture where the more frantic, stressed you are when getting work done, the more there is a perception that you are being productive. But busyness does not equal productivity.
Productivity is connected to your results; it’s the effectiveness of your effort. While busyness means you have a lot of things that you’re working on. Typically, it has the quality of too much work and not enough time to get it done. There is also the nagging quality of carrying a lot of stress while the work is getting done. And, that’s the big differentiator with productivity and busyness. Busyness is about how work gets done and productivity is about how effectively results are achieved.
Why am I always so busy?
There are two reasons for being busy.
Reason 1, you have more work to do that there is time to get it done. You’re deadlines and the quantity of work are out of sync.
This should not be a surprise. Most of us have way more to do than there is time to do it. That is not likely to change anytime soon. If we adjust our perspective and acknowledge that having “too much to do” has become a normal part of our careers, it will remove a lot of our anxiety around our workload.
Reason 2, you feel the need to carry out your work in a busy, stressful manner. Often because that carries the perception of adding value and being productive.
Understanding that we may be at the center of our stress-induced busyness is good news. Because it means that it’s a perception that we have created ourselves. It isn’t written anywhere that to be successful, we have to be hopped up on anxiety and freaking out daily.
What can I do about it?
The best way to combat busyness is to actively manage your priorities. I know that sounds simple enough and the truth is, it is simple but difficult to do. We all have our favorite way that we like to get work done. Whether that’s working on the easiest thing first or working out of your inbox. It takes discipline to collect all your tasks and objectives, review them and then work on what’s most important. Here is how you can accomplish that.
Take the time to align with your manager on your expectations, your written objectives and where you’re contributing to your organization’s goals. Record all this information for regular review. Collect all your task, requests, actions from all the items from your manager and compile them on a LIST. My preference is a simple electronic list in One Note but feel free to use any software or format that you’d like. Every day, before you start working on your next action, review that list and work on your highest priority. It’s that simple, the only difficulty is doing it consistently.
I previously mentioned working from your email as a preference for how we sometimes get work done. I strongly advise against it. You shouldn’t be using your email to figure out what you should be working on next. Email is distracting; it’s never-ending and with notifications, it constantly breaks your focus introducing something new to work on. Email doesn’t organize itself into actions, it’s just the subject on the communication. Therefore, knowing what action is required from an email chain can be time-consuming and frustrating. So, how can you manage your email to ensure that you are always prioritizing?
Firstly, don’t have your email client open all day. I recommend working on emails in 30-minute increments 4 times throughout the day. Any request that you receive through email should be captured on your LIST and removed from inbox and saved in a folder. That request needs to be captured as a clear, concise action that you’ll readily understand when reviewing your list. Always close your day with email, see if there is anything critical that you might have missed, move outstanding requests to your list and get a general sense of what the following day will be like. Always begin the following morning working from your list, not reviewing emails from overnight.
There is an unspoken culture that busy people are productive people. However, we know that busyness isn’t productivity, so how do we maintain a positive perception while focusing on what matters? There are three groups that we need to focus on to maintain a healthy perception - management, peers, direct reports.
This is where having your MANAGER’s expectation, objectives, etc. is going to be helpful. Being able to show the progress you’re making on those items by only working on your priorities will translate the value that you are adding to the organization.
With your PEERs, you will ensure there is clear communication. When you deliver work that was requested, periodically check-in, in person if possible, to ensure they got everything they needed. Where the requested work couldn’t be prioritized, again, check-in to align on a deadline or outline your current priorities and see if that work request need to be transferred.
Finally, with your DIRECT REPORTs, ensure that you have provided direction on expectations, objectives, etc. and those items are being reviewed at regular one on one meetings. Also, ensure that any requests or follow-ups that originate out of those meetings also make it on to your LIST that you’re using to prioritize. Try and have as much clarity as possible about deadlines and expected results and this will go a long way in maintaining a healthy perception.
I hope we are on the same page that busyness is not productivity and that it is ultimately a choice. The stress and anxiety that’s often at the foundation of being constantly busy are ingredients that we can remove from our daily workflow to be more engaged and deliver better results. Like I mentioned it is simple but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Working only on priorities is massively rewarding but requires discipline to accomplish.