Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Cult of Busyness

I hate when people tell me they're busy. Normally, it's an excuse to NOT do the jobs they're supposed to do.

"HR person, can you process my vacation request?"

"I'm too busy."

"To do your JOB?!!!!"

"Yes. I'm very busy."

"Doing what? Facebook is up on your screen. And you just got off the phone with a friend you talked over a half hour with to make plans to get coffee while I stood here patiently waiting, hoping you'd notice me and tell your friend you'd call back in a few minutes, and not being able to do my job."


The busiest people I've observed seem to do nothing. In one job I had recently, I worked with two other managers in an application support group. I was the Configuration Manager. A coworker was the Implementation Manager, and another coworker was the Incident Manager. We were organized around ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library).

The Incident Manager was the kind of person who would come to your office door at 3 in the afternoon and spend the next fifteen minutes telling you about how she's been so busy all day she hasn't had a chance to eat lunch or get to the bathroom.

I spent 3 months in a war zone. And years before and after preparing for it. And I rarely had trouble taking care of such things.

Many people consider that a badge of honor. I'm reminded of the Bill Engvall song from the 90's, Here's Your Sign.

Now here's the observation part. Before the other two managers took off for two weeks at Christmas, I was told to follow them around so I could cover. I sat in the Incident Manager's office for several hours a day asking questions and observing. She spent most of her time on the phone on calls that had nothing to do with application problems.

Personally, I got along with her great. Observing her did nothing to change my desire to roll my eyes and scream BULLSHIT! whenever somebody tells me they're "too busy".

When I look back at my life, the periods of time during which I considered myself the busiest I had NOTHING to show for. Sure, I was "busy", but nothing happened. Nothing got done. And I was miserable.

All of that is a long lead in to an article I came across that verifies what I'm saying: busyness is for losers. Here are some pertinent quotes:
Slow down and remember this: Most things make no difference. Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. - Tim Ferriss.

That's from The Four Hour Workweek. It's one of the best productivity books I've read.

Also is a New York Times article on busyness, "The Busy Trap". I find this quote very pertinent:
More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

That's right. Most of the stuff you think makes you busy DOESN'T MATTER. I suggest finding a real way to create meaning in your life.

That doesn't mean at times, your life may become overscheduled for short periods of time. But there's no reason to keep it that way. Learn to say no. It's a powerful word. And people don't take it as personally as you might think.

I've long since believed our compensation system is broken for knowledge work. Eight hours a day works great for factories and service jobs where physical presence is important. We're conditioned to believe that our asses need to be in a chair for eight hours a day. But we rarely have eight hours of work to do every single day.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 
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