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Busy Fools?

Optimize Blog - November 28, 2016 - 0 comments

We are always told that the world is a much busier place these days and we certainly encounter people every day that tell us that they are “really, really busy”. But it might interest you to know that the time people are working – whether paid or otherwise – in the last 30 years has not increased in Europe or North America. Now there have been some changes in the way we work over the past 50 years in that women do a lot less unpaid work and a lot more paid work. Also men do quite a bit less paid work and a lot more unpaid work. But don’t take our word for it – this data all comes from the Centre for Time Research at Oxford University….who knew that there was such a centre….?
The conclusion from the research is that over the past fifty years, the total amounts of work has pretty much stayed the same and what’s more, the data also shows that the people that say they are the busiest generally aren’t. We are just impressed that they found enough people who weren’t too busy to take part in the research……
So what seems to be the issue? Well, some of it is economics and some of it is down to the type of work that we do. Increased incomes has led to time being viewed as more valuable and more of us are engaged in ‘knowledge work’. Generally people become overwhelmed with the amount of data that they receive, the number of meetings and the pressure to just “do it all”. But here’s the rub – psychological research shows that living with one eye on the clock actually leads to worse performance.
The reality is that we handle our things to do much less well when we are rushed. The economist Sendhil Mullainathan and behavioural scientist Eldar Shafir have a name for this problem and they have called it “cognitive bandwith”. When we have scarce time we tend to make poor time management choices – choosing urgent over important, agreeing to unrealistic timeframes, staying late to get stuff done….
This is irony at its finest. In the past status was granted to those who had the freedom not to have to work and yet now we judge people’s status on just how busy they are. People therefore determine to let everyone know just how busy they are to somehow demonstrate how important they are.
We live busy lives because it makes us feel good about ourselves – we must be contributing to the overall productivity of the planet right? And let’s be honest with ourselves, we think less of the co-worker that always leaves on time having got their work done than of the individual that comes in early and is the last to leave.
Until we get back to measuring the right things this ridiculous concern with how busy we are will continue. One thing that is for sure is that even the richest person on this planet cannot buy an extra minute over and above the 1440 that we are granted each day.
Busyness is something that no organization should value. Productivity and behaviour that moves the organization forward are the things that should concern us. So, as you start to think about next year’s goal setting and performance objective setting, spend time focusing on the few things that will enable you to win as an organization. We’re betting that setting a goal to be busy will not deliver any sort of competitive advantage…….

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