Is our busyness epidemic terminal?
Why we need to break free from routine, repetitive tasks in order to redirect time towards innovation and business growth.
Urgent intervention is needed before stagnating wages, productivity and the economy shift to a state of decline. With storm clouds brewing, business leaders typically respond by demanding 110% from their workforce. Being busy is seen as a badge of honour. This was passed on from a time when work was physical and respected pre-defined boundaries.
Things are different today. In this fast-paced digital era, information is everywhere and business is conducted around the clock. Our business goals haven’t changed, but the rules have.
Every day, employees battle against a conveyer belt of administrative tasks, from emails, conference calls and meetings, to reporting, ‘to-do’ tasks and system updates. Indeed, the employee experience company, Qualtrics finds that 47% of UK workers spend the majority of their time feeling overwhelmed by workloads and 85% say that work is causing them stress.
This is neither a sustainable state nor a productive future. The uncertain forces shaping our economy require business and industry to look beyond short-termism, metrics and viewing employees as a measurable output.
The situation is best summarised by the leadership expert John C. Maxwell, who wrote in The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization, “The greatest enemy of good thinking is busyness.”
Digitised operations will empower employees to imagine, create and improve
It doesn’t have to be this way. First, we need to redefine our relationship with technology. Until recently the role of technology was to make humans more productive. Early automation eliminated many of the dirty and dangerous jobs, such as operating machinery, while the second phase made inroads into routine and mundane tasks like customer support and certain HR processes. The next wave of technology evolution – which is upon us now – involves the automation of our thoughts.
The second way to tackle everyday ‘busyness’ is to focus on attention, not time. Attention is a finite resource and we should treasure it. Our optimum attention span is 50 minutes. Modern employees need to stop multi-tasking, work in short bursts, turn off alerts and avoid interruptions.
The third objective is to become strategic about productivity. As we become busier, our work fragments and an average level of productivity becomes acceptable. The maxim ‘less is more’ applies here and now is the time to practice mastery.
Many of our daily tasks are ineffectual – void of value and meaning – and our addiction to being busy stops us from doing anything about it. It makes no sense that we measure our worth by how much of time we spend doing something. Instead, we should value what we achieve.
To create a secure, productive and prosperous future we need to break this negative cycle. Productive people equal productive businesses. By working smarter, we free up more time for strategic tasks, such as innovation and business growth. By failing to play on the same team, we simply run the risk of both ending up on the losing side.