The Realities of Busyness: Why “Busy” Is A Four-Letter Swear Word, Part 2

The week before last, we explored how employees stating that they’re “busy” all the time can have unfortunate effects on their mental and physical health, and can actually add to the toxicity of the work environment. It can also send a subliminal message that they’re more important or more courageous than their coworkers, which only serves to contaminate workplace morale, diminishing productivity for all parties. Quite a bit of potency for just a word, wouldn’t you say? In fact, it is for this reason that “busy” resembles some of those profane cuss words that we try to protect our children’s ears from.

Keep in mind that part of the reason employees feel so busy is that there doesn’t appear to be enough surplus time in their week with which to break away from workplace duties. For various reasons, people are mismanaging their time, often finding themselves spending far too many hours on work-related matters. This, in turn, perpetuates the illusion that they’ve worked “90 hours this week”— the myth that usually accompanies “I’m crazy busy” when you ask them how they’re doing. So, I’ve taken the liberty to put together a small collage of interesting facts about busyness that might shed some curious light upon what “busy” people declare. Employees becoming cognizant of these facts is the first step toward maximizing their time; Being assisted in their journey by their employer is what leads to action, and to greater productivity company-wide.

Laura Has It Right!     

A December Gallup poll found that 61% of working Americans said they didn’t have enough time to do the things they wanted to do. If only individuals could absorb, process and believe that there IS enough time in their week to do the things that are important to them, not only would they finally get to enjoy those activities, their personal anxiety level will plummet. This is one of the great discoveries made by time management expert Laura Vanderkam, and one of the reasons why her book 168 Hours has become so influential. Laura suggests to start by keeping a time log for only ONE WEEK, which consists of 168 hours. This will reveal, for instance, that if employees work 60 TRUE hours and sleep the recommended 56 hours, they are left with 52 hours to live life as they wish, each and every week. It’s as simple as that. Can they get their work done in 50 true hours? That’s 10 additional hours of free time they can claim. The time log revolutionized my own life, and it happened pretty quickly. Read my June 2016 three-part time log testament and get a feel for how the change can unfold.

Just Where DID That Time Go?

The time log recipe can only work if employees are as focused and engaged as possible during each working hour, which is often not the case. This is how the myth of busyness is born. In a 2011 study, the Monthly Labor Review found that people who claim to work 75-plus hours per week were overestimating, on average, by about 25 hours. may have tapped into part of the reason when they found that most workers goof off for 34 minutes per day on the job. That amounts to 140 hours, or nearly 6 days each year spent AT work, but not ON work! And that figure doesn’t even take into account the time squandered at all those sloppily executed business meetings!

People’s bad work habits are difficult to change. The time log is a start, but it may be up to the employer to find additional creative ways to reclaim lost minutes and set their staff on a path to better productivity. To accomplish this, consider the other time-sucking contention: Email. Resetting the cultural protocols for this business tool-gone-wild would prove effective. For instance, try setting some lean standards regarding WHO should respond to a group email, for when an email thread gets closed, and for when folks should respond to the sender vs to “all”. Refer to my article about Making Email Work for You for even more useful tips.

The Call To Action

In addition to transforming your office email dynamics and challenging your employees to keep a time log, be sure they share their results (anonymously, of course) to learn additional ways to be effective. But most importantly, make it clear to them that it’s not a punishment or shaming exercise. Rather, it’s an opportunity for these folks to develop their talents. It will motivate them to maximize their productivity, engagement and energy practices, while pinpointing areas they can improve upon.

To take these solutions to the next level, consider DRIVEN’s world-class Private Client Services.