Ask anyone how things are going and more often than not, you'll get the response, "Busy." We certainly are a "busy" society and it has seeped into all corners of life, especially the workplace. But is breeding a culture of busy in your business really the most effective move?
Most research points to no. In fact, one study found busyness and our fear of inactivity has led to "idleness aversion" in which we're drawn to being busy regardless of how harmful it is to productivity. In other words, we squander valuable time doing things that are unnecessary or unimportant simply because the busyness makes us feel productive.
Why are we obsessed with being busy?
Leisure time used to be celebrated, and even worn as a badge of honor. But somewhere along the way, the tables turned. Now, it's busyness that has become prestigious or our rite of passage to belong in various societal circles.
There are numerous contributing factors from the rise of the startup to media portraying those who hustle as successful. Overtime, particularly in knowledge-intensive societies, we've come to place higher value on those who have competency, hustle and drive, and this is especially prevalent in the business world. So it's no wonder we aim to keep busy -- it suggests we are in demand, which enhances our perceived status.
This phenomenon then begs the question -- are we really as busy as we say and think we are? According to sociologist John P. Robinson from the University of Maryland, we actually have more free time than we think. What we're experiencing is fragmentation.
We're constantly responding to an onslaught of emails, text messages, phone calls and other notifications -- and we're doing it during what used to be reserved solely for leisure time. Thus it feels as if we're always working, which in turn makes us feel valuable.
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty out there who are undeniably busy. But regardless of whether it's sheer overload or fragmentation we're experiencing, its effects have deeper implications.
The downside of busy
Though we've become primed to equate busy to productivity and efficiency, it actually leads to several potentially detrimental outcomes: fragmentation, burnout, and poor relationships. In essence, our jam-packed schedules are compromising our ability to achieve balance and presence of mind, and create meaningful relationships all because these things require the one thing many of us feel we don't have --time. And each of these side effects of busy can negatively impact the workplace.
For one, when we're busy, it feels easier to send a quick note to a colleague or employee through text, email or Slack rather than take the time to have a face-to-face conversation, or even a phone call for that matter. It's these interactions, however, that foster relationships and shape workplace culture.
Furthermore, because the busyness creates a false sense of productivity, the tendency is to turn to menial tasks such as responding to email or notifications rather than tackle the big rocks or that big, looming project. And it's this always-on culture that leads to increased pressures and eventually burnout.
So, what's the solution?
Reversing the culture of busy
While this will not be an overnight fix, as you'll effectively have to reshape a mentality that has been ingrained over the past decade, there are things you can do today to start to shift your company culture from busy to effective and efficient.
Start by leading by example. Your organization's leaders have to take time to breathe and bring oxygen into their lives. They have to put a value on, and guard, personal time that is dedicated to overall wellness and demonstrate that it's necessary to recharging in a way that enables you to fire on all cylinders when you are "on."
Be aware of your language around the office, too. When asked how your day is going or how you are doing, don't respond with "busy." Focus on delivering a more genuine response, and don't let your staff get away with using the word either.
Set clear boundaries. This goes for achieving balance across the work/life continuum, as well as managing the constant notifications rather than having them manage you.
Consider training your team how to schedule time blocks to respond and efficiently cycle through things like email, Slack, instant messages and text messages. When we get out of the inbox and the need to constantly respond, we move out of a reactionary state and it frees us up to be more mindful and strategic in our actions.
Reward results over workload. There will always be times when long hours are needed to achieve a difficult objective, but try to avoid only recognizing individuals for overworking themselves. The team will come to associate this with behavior they should model if they are to achieve the same level of success.
More often than not, however, this leads to burnout. Instead, recognize individuals for their results, strategically going the extra mile and effective time management skills. In demonstrating your organization values these traits over long hours at the office or working through lunch, you'll be able to reshape what your team views as model behavior and you might realize an ancillary benefit: improved efficiency.
The thought of eliminating busy from your company culture may sound scary and counter to creating a high-performance team. But when you focus on instilling efficiency over busy, and balance versus overload, you'll lay the groundwork for an environment that is mindful, strategic and productive.