What is the Busy Cult?
Every business leader wants their team to be as productive as possible and get it done. No effective leader likes to waste their time micromanaging. In fact, my ideal employees work out what needs to be done based on nothing more than the ideas I bring them. But, there’s one thing that constantly stands in the way of productivity. Often it causes the entire company to grind to a halt. It’s an unnecessary virus within many organizations and if not kept in check, it will run rampant. It’s what I call the “Busy Cult”.
Busyness for its own sake is tempting. That’s because it makes us feel effective. However, it leads to a false sense of accomplishment. Spending our days maxing out our schedules and jumping from one task to the next has become an indicator of high status. However, it’s not unlike maxing out a credit card — damaging, costly, and irresponsible. When we keep ourselves too busy, we are wasting precious mental energy. Ultimately, we’re destroying productivity. There are plenty of reasons why the Busy Cult forms within an organization, and even more reasons why it needs to be cut out like the cancerous tumor it is.
The Ten Facets of “Busyness”
1. False Hustle
False hustle, A.K.A pretending to work hard to keep up appearances. This is the “look busy” component of the Busy Cult. While constantly saying “I am busy” is generally easy to spot, there is a version of this that can go undetected in the context of an organization. For example, if we look busy enough, we won’t be asked to do more. False hustle is insidious within the context of corporate culture. It avoids working on a specific assignment. Not only that, but it actually compels supervisors to avoid assigning more work. Therefore, there is an erosion of trust. it not only avoids work on a specific assignment, it actually compels supervisors to avoid assigning more work, and it causes an erosion of trust.
2. Mismanaged Time
The key to reducing the busy stress is eliminating “time sucks”. Time sucks are tasks that are not urgent or important that you find yourself spending time on. We will talk more about these later, but identification and elimination of time sucks from any routine is critical. Often, we spend too much effort on unnecessary tasks without evaluating our process.
3. Priority Mismatch
Sometimes, a task seems more important to the person assigning the task than it does to the one completing it. This type of busy can take many forms. It can stem from a lack of understanding, prioritization, or caring. It is important that the assignor and the assignee have a mutual understanding of the priority levels of all assignments on a person’s plate.
4. Lack of Margins
Margins allow us to reflect on what we are doing and how we are doing it. This is essential to efficiency. Evaluating your process leads to improved procedures. Busyness due to lack of margins often occurs in any production-based business. When daily tasks form the measure of success or failure, it is easy to experience tunnel vision. Due to this, you may ignore important tasks. Most people who operate this never see any process improvement outside of “just work faster”. This is because they never step back to improve their own process. The new economy demands constant iteration and improvement. Lack of reflection and a failure to innovate means that a Bot will probably replace you!
It’s not uncommon for us to let the desire to achieve high status within the Busy Cult get the better of us. We often attempt to do more than one person can effectively handle. This results in a severe quality-of-work deficit, costing us profits, damaging our reputations, and most importantly: cluttering our minds. Overload within an organization is generally due to one of two things:
- The organization knows that someone is overloaded but is not willing to spend money to provide the additional resources necessary to lighten their load.
2. The organization has no idea that someone is overloaded because the organization has failed to manage them well.
- Overload. It’s not uncommon for us to let the desire to achieve high status within the Busy Cult get the better of us. We often attempt to do more than one person can effectively handle. This results in a severe quality-of-work deficit, costing us profits, damaging our reputations, and most importantly: cluttering our minds. Overload within an organization is generally due to one of two things:
6. Busy Work
We all have busy work. Obsessive email-checking, frequent feed-scrolling, constant cubicle-cleaning or paper organization. All unique forms of busy work. Planning is the key to avoiding it. Taking five or ten minutes to make a high-priority list for the day’s accomplishments can revolutionize employee management. Additionally, it will eliminate busywork.
It has become a status symbol. Consider the following story told by behavioral economist Dan Ariely: “Early in his career, the locksmith ‘was just not that good at it: it would take him a really long time to open the door, and he would often break the lock,’ Ariely says. Still, people were happy to pay his fee and throw in a tip. As he got better and faster, though, they began to complain about the fee and stopped tipping. You’d think they would value regaining access to their house or car more swiftly. But what they really wanted was to see the locksmith putting in the time and effort – even if it meant a longer wait.” 
Lack of Sense of the Bigger Picture.
Some employees only sense the bigger picture during those mountaintop experiences at annual budget meetings, industry conferences, or networking opportunities. The daily grind overwhelms their ability to think strategically about vision, movement, and innovation. This tendency to constantly give in to the tyranny of the urgent at the expense of strategic initiatives and important big-picture concerns will cripple a company and stall growth. To cast a vision for the bigger picture in your organization, use professional development initiatives effectively to provide perspective and direction for employees while avoiding the traps of busy work, overload, and false hustle.
9. “I’m Too Busy” is Passive Aggressive
While we don’t like to admit it, workplace politics crop up frequently in the busy cult. Busyness can become a false pretense that gives employees an excuse to ignore problems, avoid people, and perpetuate petty differences. We’ve all experienced the, “I’m too busy” excuse when we approach managers or stakeholders with new ideas and innovations. When we perpetuate this passive-aggressive means of dealing with problems we often stagnate and those around us are less likely to approach us with creative ideas in the future.
10. Busy = Company Crippling
Perpetual busyness is born of our culture’s “never enough” mentality. Social media makes it nearly impossible to avoid comparing our hustle to that of others, which leads us to conclude that we’re not hustling enough. This mindset generates a feeling of inadequacy that quickly drains our mental energy. This is termed “cognitive bandwidth” by Sendhil Mullainathan (economist) and Eldar Shafir (behavioral scientist): “Feelings of scarcity — whether money or time — prey on the mind, thereby impairing decision-making. When you’re busy, you’re more likely to make poor time-management choices such as taking on commitments you can’t handle and prioritizing trifling tasks over crucial ones. A vicious spiral kicks in: your feelings of busyness leave you even busier than before.” 
This is how constantly feeling busy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and extinguishes your ability to be effective.
 Burkemann, Oliver. "Why you feel busy all the time (when you're actually not)." BBC Future, BBC, 12 Sept. 2013, www.bbc.com/future/story/20160909-why-you-feel-busy-all-the-time-when-youre-actually-not. Accessed 21 Feb. 2018.  Burkemann, Oliver. "Why you feel busy all the time (when you're actually not)." BBC Future, BBC, 12 Sept. 2013, www.bbc.com/future/story/20160909-why-you-feel-busy-all-the-time-when-youre-actually-not. Accessed 21 Feb. 2018.
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