Everything has changed. We now live in a work world that no longer deals in just widgets. Instead, we live in a work world that values ideas, innovations, and solutions. And while the industrial revolution taught us to measure hours, output, and efficiency, today's world demands something very different from most of us--thought.

Do you get paid to think? That might seem like a ridiculous question. But it's not. Sure, you might be required to produce a presentation or outcome of your thought--a plan, proposal, pitch, or whatever. But in today's world, it's your thinking that counts--not your busyness. 

I was reminded of this when a reader recently messaged me, "Todd, what is the most offensive thing a former boss has ever said to you?" I thought about my early career. I thought about all the places I've worked, and the people I've worked for. And I quickly arrived at one memory, when a former boss once told me, "We don't pay you to think. We pay you to write." Somehow this boss thought the number of words I put on a page were more important than which words I chose to put on the page.

This type of thinking was part of the culture. My co-workers at the time seemed to wear "being busy" as a badge of honor--almost competing with one another about who worked the most hours, who came in over the weekend, and who was more exhausted. And our boss loved it.

Is being extremely busy something to brag about? And does it actually help you excel in your career? Does it benefit the business? Well, that depends on how you focus your effort, and whether or not this attitude is creating more harm than good.

While it may seem easy to assume busy people produce more than their counterparts, consider this for a second. According to ComPsych Corporation's 2017 StressPulseSM survey, almost 60 percent of employees report being in the high-stress category. And being "constantly busy" is one of the largest culprits. The survey also revealed 36 percent of employees lost at least one or more hours per day to stress. It's these types of figures that should make any leader pause to think about how they're focusing their team, and any one of us pause to think about how we're focusing our time.

Is being busy actually hindering your personal or team performance at work? Here are four questions to ask yourself. 

1. Do you believe the more you do, the more productive you are? 

While your boss might love seeing you pour great effort into every project, they really love great results. Adding tasks to your list, taking on more, and running yourself ragged might feel admirable, but it's important to stop and analyze if your effort is focused on the right activities to create results.   

2. Is busyness a distraction from something else? 

Some people need to be busy. And that's OK. But it's important to understand that appeasing nervous energy, or diverting your attention from some other aspect of your life, won't necessarily lead to great work. Constant busyness might be a cover up for a person who feels their ideas aren't worthy. Taking on endless tasks might be an excuse for another person to avoid their life after work.     

3. Can you measure the impact of your busyness?  

Busyness and business are two very different things. While it might feel good to keep moving, ask yourself if your busyness is creating measurable value for the business. Just like the idea of "getting paid to think" might have felt uncomfortable--because that thinking needs to directed into some sort of result--"getting paid to do" is similar. Your activities need to make a measurable impact.

4. Are you overlooking the most important aspect of your effort? 

While I would never suggest being idle at work leads to results, I will recommend taking time to look at your to-do list and making sure you're not letting the most important aspects of your work get sidelined. Are you not recognizing the people who help you at work? Are you placing your own well-being in jeopardy? Have you lost sight of your own goals, or the organizational goals? All of these are huge players in your future success.

Being busy is a good thing, because it means you have something to accomplish. But be careful where you direct your own or your team's energy. Pour your effort into the places that truly create results, and success will follow. And know when to take a break. I could keep adding words to this post for example, but that would just be busywork.

Published on: Mar 13, 2019
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