Time Management at Work
Is busyness killing business?
Is busyness killing business?
Effective time management at work has an enemy: busyness.
Picture a manager new to the job, seated at an uncluttered desk. She reaches for her phone and says to her assistant:
“Bring me an in-tray and an out-tray. And oh yes, and some paper to shuffle between the two!”
Busyness is the metaphorical equivalent of shuffling paper between two trays. It has the appearance of work, but doesn’t deliver anything. Busyness is the opposite of effective time management at work. It’s wasteful of time and resources and needs to be managed properly.
This article looks at the nature of busyness, whether intentional or inadvertent, and suggests strategies for identifying and removing it from the workplace. After all, “busy-work” is the antithesis of “meaningful-work”, a key ingredient in the pursuit of happiness.
Busyness is time spent doing unnecessary or unproductive work. Its exponents may look busy, but time spent in busyness lacks the effectiveness and efficiency of properly managed time. In a Peanuts comic strip, Lucy tells Charlie Brown that she’s decided to take up a hobby. He immediately commends her for deciding to accomplish something. To which she responds:
Accomplish something? All I thought we were supposed to do was keep busy!
If the work being performed is unnecessary, it’s time wasted. Putting effort into identifying and removing busyness is certainly not time wasted. It can yield significant rewards. But why does something so wasteful remain such a problem? Perhaps because the most powerful “quality” of busyness is that it has the appearance of work but without the substance.
Busyness is the sugar of the workplace. Sugary foods may look substantial and appealing, but they lack the fibre and value of healthy food. Just as it’s easy to get hooked on the “naughty but nice” sin of sugar addiction, so too can busyness take root in an organisation, and with the same effects. Too little healthy input and healthy activity leads to lethargy, excess weight and inefficiency. If the outlook for sugar addicts is bleak, so too is the prognosis for organisations which allow busyness to flourish!
Without dealing with busyness it’s difficult to see how time management at work can be improved. Because it’s no longer time management at work, but the time management of busyness that is generating work. Unnecessary work. As Peter Drucker once said:
There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.
So how do we recognise busyness? Often simply becoming aware of its existence can open our eyes to the evidence around us.
Firstly, analyse your work place and try to identify examples of poor correlation between effort and results. Close inspection may well indicate a number of these examples are caused by genuine reasons, such as resource or operational issues. However it’s quite likely a significant number will be due to busyness.
This is where your time management effort needs to be focused. Busyness doesn’t accomplish anything, it doesn’t deliver results for you, and it ruins any notion of effective time management at work. What does busyness look like?
Here are some common features to watch out for:
So, if time management at work is being adversely affected by busyness, how do we treat it? Start by reading our article: 10 Tips on Time Management: How to Eradicate “Busyness”.
These are only suggestions, and each boss and each circumstance must be taken individually. However the value of effective time management, for you and your boss, is worth the effort and maybe even some risk.
There’s a wide range of time management resources in our store, including some great tools. Our e-guide: Managing Time and Priority is is packed with practical tools, tested ideas and a dash of radical thinking. It will will help you master two critical skills: managing time and priority. The guide will help you to:
Tool 1: Commitments summary
Tool 2: Time log
Tool 3:Time analysis
Tool 4: Time planning with task filters
Tool 5: Task priorities
Try our great value e-guides