Written by: Mark Saine
TIAA Managing Director of Client Leadership Solutions
In nearly every conversation I have with others, we end up talking about how busy we are and how challenging it is to keep up. There is no doubt that today, we are busier than we were a year ago. Life has changed significantly and we’re juggling personal and professional life in ways we never have before. But, I still wonder is “busy” sometimes a substitute for something else—confused, disillusioned, overwhelmed, anxious, spent? And why is it so important that everyone be busy all the time or at least look like they are busy?
My conclusion—unpopular as it may be—is that perhaps we are not as busy as we think we are. In fact, some research indicates that employees work for about 3 hours a day. In other words, they engage in value-add activities less than half of the time they are “on the clock.”
I believe that the feeling of busyness is likely more driven by the inability to focus and stay on task which may be especially true today.
Consider these findings1:
We get interrupted about every three minutes at work
We check our email about 75 times a day
We touch our smartphones over 2,500 times a day
Add to the above our increasing reliance on video conferencing tools, and we have a potent cocktail of distraction. Our attention is under siege.
During times of crisis, like the pandemic we are weathering now, it is a full-on press to maintain continuity and create improvised solutions to address the urgent. In our working lifetimes, we have never experienced anything quite like this. It is likely a once in a generation event that provides us with an opportunity to reshape our approach to work and to form new habits. Where do we begin?
First, choose focus over busyness by asking additional, clarifying questions.
|In addition to asking...||Ask this...|
What do I have to do today?
What's most urgent?
What have I got to do?
What's on my list of to-dos?
What needs to be done today?
What's most important?
What do I get to do?
What are my top 3 priorities today?
Second, rethink your relationships.
My manager is my boss.
My team needs to be told.
I'll wait to act until I am confident.
My team works for me.
I meet my customers' expectations.
My manager is my customer.
My team needs to be heard.
I'll act and gain confidence.
I work with my team.
I delight the customers I serve.
Taking this opportunity to fundamentally change our work and our habits can make the difference in a move from busyness to relevance and contribution.
1.From the book Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt and the 2018 HBR article “The Case for the 6-Hour Workday” by Steve Glaveski.