Stop looking busy


Seriously, we aren’t really all that busy. Most of us are just trying to look busy.

Messy TableImagine yourself, seated at your desk, with work done for the day – half a day too early. You look around you and realise everyone is still buried in the mountains of papers. You feel guilty to grab your bag and leave. It just wasn’t culturally nor politically right, your boss will be questioning your commitment, quality or capability. You are either doing too little or too shabbily. So you take out some random stack of paper, with a pen in your hand, frown and ponder really hard… looking busy.

OR you have a whole list of task on your hand, and you have no idea where to start completing everything. You on your laptop, with stacks of notes taken from meetings and started multi-tasking with browsers, spreadsheets, documents, research papers, social media. You spend the next 6 hours clicking away and at the end of the day, you realised you only completed one meager task.

PERHAPS you had back-to-back meetings, your day was filled from 9am to 9pm, one client after another. Your organiser and notebook are filled with minutes and scribbles. What a day! But at the end of the 12 hours, you actually did nothing constructive. And the week passed, with the same schedule repeating itself oh-so-often. You get home, too tired to talk to your spouse, too tired to play with the kids or to spend time with yourself. “I had a really busy day, so leave me alone.” You say. Or so you thought.

In the society today, we are often pressured by social norms to look busy, in order to look useful or productive. Working long hours or late hours are like Oscars waiting to be won. “The most packed lunches goes to….” The person who packed the most lunch and has his butt stuck to his chair for the maximum hours gets an award too. The person who forgoes his or her weekend for work is being respected for dedication. Singles are expected to cover more hours since they don’t have a family to go back to. When they are officially married to their job, they don’t get wedding gifts but more pats on the shoulder for superb dedication and IF you are lucky, maybe a promotion (so you can do even more).

Sure, many people are seriously busy, I don’t doubt that at all. But is the busy-ness caused by too many redundancies, disorganisation, unnecessary procedures or work, lack of delegation or simply a pressure to look busy? There is absolutely nothing wrong if you enjoy the hecticness and dynamism. It only becomes a problem when you begin to hate your life. The article is written as a note to myself. I’m guilty of the above. I tend to have the habit to look busy; but when I really nail things down, I realised I can be less busy but I can’t be less guilty. So I shifted my own paradigm towards the idea of work. No one really made a law to say you have to be working 9 to 5, Monday to Friday to be an active working adult.

Effectiveness and efficiency has no direct relation to how much time you spend on your job. Work is ONE aspect of life and not everything. Upon turning independent more than 3 years ago, I really enjoy spending more meal times with my parents and siblings. I have also managed to fit in more exercise time as the park is just below my block. Yes I am still extremely busy with life, but my work busy-ness is seasonal these days. Which means I might have weeks that are very spread out and leaves me plenty of time to do the things I enjoy; but on occassions, I literally work my ass off on a 70-hour week. However, the versatility of my schedule has allowed me a lifestyle I don’t need to escape from. I no longer look forward to planned vacations or public holidays. I fly when I have time and any good day can be a holiday. I love my clients, and in fact enjoy the meeting times with them as they keep me in a gregarious environment, where teamwork continues to exist beyond my independent status.

Here are 7 tips I found useful for me. You may have heard them many times before, but yes they work.

  1. The Magic of PAPER: Close your laptop. Structure and write your thoughts on paper, with visuals, scribbles, mind-maps, before transferring them to your digital document. There is something magical about paper that tablets cannot replace.
  2. Task List: Uh huh… yes they work. Write your task list before you go to bed. Look at your task list first thing in the morning. Your task list should also include items like “Grocery shopping”. That’s important. I use a combination of Dato Gtasks with Got-IT!, synced to my Google Tasks and placed on my Android home screen.
  3. Cut-off Time: Give yourself a cut-off time for everything. I wrote an official memo to all my staff not to work after 8pm or on weekends unless absolutely necessary. And even if they are, not to reply clients after those hours, so we can better manage the communications with our client and partners.
  4. Meetings before 2pm: Schedule all meetings before 2pm (if possible). The moment meetings go past 2pm, the day is literally gone.
  5. Use Tools: Tools can be useful. I use Boomerang for Gmail to schedule delayed emails to clients and reminders to self, Cloze is also useful for relationship management by helping you analyse emails that need your attention. Asana to manage project work groups. Blinklist for quick reads. Out of context but I also use Dropbox to ensure access to my files regardless of the device I’m using (won’t have to freak out if I don’t bring the thumbdrive). — Updated 10 Feb 2016
  6. Walk Away: Walk away from your work if you are suffering from mental blockage (which happens to be pretty often) or facing a neverending list of items on your to-do list. Take a stroll, do some exercises or simply have a coffee (away from the office) before coming back with more clarity. Even when you are crunched for time, remember more haste can be less speed.
  7. Reward Yourself: Give yourself a pat on the shoulder for completing your task before stipulated deadline. There is nothing wrong with being efficient and you should not be guilty of such. Enjoy the luxury of the extra time and feel good about it. You will remember this positivity and want to repeat the same result again, propelling you to perform better in your job.

Organisations need to start rewarding employees for effectiveness by encouraging efficiency with shorter working hours. Getting more done in a shorter time and applauding people who get off work earlier (and not later) has a major impact on workplace happiness. We, as working professionals also need to start apprehending the fact that working long hours is nothing to be proud of. Sacrificing health for your job (yes I saw fingers pointing at me already) gives you nothing back in return but doctors’ bills. We need to start getting busy with life, not with work.

And for fellow social media consultants; get off social media and get your social back.

Update : Saw this article on Fast Company that is almost spot on! –  THE TRUTH ABOUT HOW MUCH WORKAHOLICS ACTUALLY WORK.

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2 thoughts on “Stop looking busy

  1. Great advice, Belinda! Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Yup! Being busy doesn’t equals being effective. I’ve learned to do things that matter more.

    And yes, nowadays I don’t look forward to vacations or holidays either! I realized when you’re happy inside, you don’t need to seek happiness outside! So great!!!

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