As a leader, a peer or even a friend, how do you help the person that is suffering from the busy disease? The person who has no time to do anything they want to? The one that isn’t getting enough sleep, who isn’t looking after themselves and whose to do list is continually growing. How do you help them when they can’t see a way out of their busyness or when they’re not aware of how their busyness is impacting on others?
This is certainly a challenge in business when you have the incredibly busy person often too busy to do the fundamental requirements of their job. They’re so busy being busy that they have lost clarity about what is important and what the critical tasks are that will make the biggest difference to their outcomes. Like, for example, the basic customer service requirement of returning a call. This situation can be challenging as a peer and a friend also when you see someone just digging a deeper hole for themselves day after day.
Busy has now become a mantra for many. When they wake up in the morning the first thing that comes to mind is how busy they are, so they reach for the phone and go through emails to prove it. They tell themselves how much they have to do that day and worry about what the day will bring. They will repeat ‘I’m so busy, I’m so busy, I’m so busy’ in their own mind and to anyone who will listen. And they believe it. Of course they do, they are constantly telling themselves they are busy – it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And they could well be, but are they really as busy as they ‘think’ they are?
A recent article published on inc.com highlighted that according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 8.8 hours every day. Yet a study of nearly 2,000 full-time office workers revealed that most people aren’t working for most of the time they’re at work.
The most popular unproductive activities listed were:
- Reading news websites – 1 hour 5 min
- Checking social media – 44 min
- Discussing non-work-related things with coworkers – 40 min
- Searching for new jobs – 26 min
- Taking smoke breaks – 23 min
- Making calls to partners/ friends – 18 min
- Making hot drinks – 17 min
- Texting or instant messaging – 14 min
- Eating snacks – 8 min
- Making food in office – 7 min
I couldn’t help but nod in agreement as I was reading this. Over the past couple of years, despite the fact we are getting busier, that we are asked to do more with less, people still have time to do these things above regardless of how busy they are. Finger pointed right back at me also! I sometimes amaze myself at how I can procrastinate and waste time when I am genuinely busy – or have looming deadlines that I have to meet. And it still fascinates me how often I hear this word spoken and used as an excuse for poor delivery and the fact people aren’t walking their talk.
So how do you help the busy? It does need to be something that is done gently. Researchers from Harvard and Columbia conducted an experiment and found participants associated “busyness” with a higher social status. People do attach busy with importance these days and wear it like a badge of honour so it can be an ego related thing.
A couple of the best ways to raise people’s awareness around this is to encourage them to keep a log of what they are doing with their time each day. Journal it for about 4 weeks and people often come to their own realization that they aren’t as busy as they think they are and they do have the capacity to be more effective. Another effective strategy is to sit down with the person in an effort to understand and assist with their planning and prioritising. Often getting it out on paper and doing this exercise with someone else can evoke a light bulb moment where the come to the realization that a lot of the busyness is in their mind rather than what is reality and they aren’t as busy as they think they are.
Stephen Richards said, “Reality is a projection of your thoughts or the things you habitually think about.” If you constantly think you’re busy, you will believe it.