What’s Everybody So Busy Doing?
Do you sometimes look around your office and wonder, “What is everybody doing?”
I’ve led small and relatively large teams. One thing I’ve noticed: I have yet to meet with someone on my team who asked for more to do. I constantly met with people who felt overwhelmed by their workload, though.
I am pretty trusting of people, but at times, I wondered what everyone was so busy doing.
When I interviewed Cheryl Bachelder for my new book, Big Shoes To Fill, she made a passing comment that caught my attention:
“Everyone knows if they aren’t busy, they are unemployed.”
Busy People, Poor Progress
Every organization is full of busy people. And they are busy doing work of some sort. You don’t see people doom-scrolling through Instagram or playing video games when you wander by offices or cubicles. At least not often.
Everyone is busy. Everyone is doing something. But what?
The workday is like a house.
Have you ever moved into a larger house from a smaller one? That first day, you unpacked all your belongings and had so much room to spare in your new, larger home. You had extra storage space. You even had rooms without any furniture. And, like everyone, you said, “We’ll never fill this place up.”
Yet, look around. Your house is so full you’ve rented a storage unit.
The workday is the same. We fill the space, but just because it’s “full” doesn’t mean people are effective.
Don’t Blame The Busy People Yet
This may be only my temptation, but when the people I’ve led were busy but not necessarily efficient or effective, I assumed they had a problem to fix. Yet, in most cases, the problem was me. I’m the leader. If those following me aren’t doing well, it’s a mirror moment.
I’m not suggesting every busy yet ineffective person is your fault, but the first step to fixing the problem is to start with what we can best control: US.
Here are some things that too easily create busyness without effectiveness. Fix these, and you’ll help your team:
1. Lack of Clear Goals and Priorities: Without a clear understanding of what is important, team members may focus on less impactful tasks that are more straightforward or habitual.
2. Micromanagement: Overly detailed supervision and control can lead team members to focus on meeting immediate demands from the leader rather than on strategic, high-impact work.
3. Failing to Delegate Effectively: When leaders don’t delegate properly, team members may end up with tasks that are not aligned with their skills or the team’s goals.
4. Ineffective Communication: If the leader doesn’t communicate the strategic goals and how each team member’s work contributes to these goals, staff may not understand the importance of their tasks.
5. Overloading with Minor Tasks: Assigning too many low-impact tasks can overwhelm team members, leaving little time for truly important work.
6. Not Providing Feedback or Direction: Team members might not realize that their focus has shifted away from critical tasks without regular feedback and guidance.
7. Lack of Trust in the Team’s Abilities: If a leader doesn’t trust the team’s judgment or skills, they might focus everyone on busy work to avoid risk rather than empowering them to tackle more significant challenges.
If you’ve done your work and a few people still seem busy but ineffective, it’s time for a time audit or a more difficult conversation. But before these, it’s always best to start with ourselves.