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Are We Too “Busy” To Be Our Most Productive?

8 March 2023

I recently read a Harvard Business School publication on “The Busyness Trap.” And it triggered so many thoughts for me – I’ve written on this subject before.

It’s so tempting to be “busy.” “Busy” signals that we’re working hard. But are those “busy” signals a genuine reflection of our work’s reality? And, even if they are, is merely busying ourselves actually meeting our clients’ and customers’ needs to the very best of our ability?

I think that, often, we need to step back and ask ourselves whether our “busy” work is producing the solutions our clients and customers want and need, or are we merely doing what’s easiest to do, rather than focusing deep, so as to formulate strategic solutions which will actually resolve the issue at hand?

One of the best ways to determine this is to ask ourselves the hard questions, such as:

  • Is the “busyness” we are invested in really propelling our specific, concrete goals and solutions for our clients and customers (and maybe our businesses, too), forward?
  • Do we brag about our long hours, how many frantic emails we have to answer? Why? To make ourselves feel needed? A better way would be to focus deeply on developing the best solution to a client’s or customer’s problem.
  • Do we check our emails and smartphones constantly? This a great enemy of focus – the constantly distracted mind is less able to focus deeply.
  • What “busy” work do we do that is inappropriate to our role and our unique abilities? Are we delegating it to others so that we can focus on what we do well?
  • When we have a slower period, do we take advantage of that to take think deeply about what we can do better, and how to improve?

And how do we measure “busyness” against genuine productivity?

If our workplace is a factory line, measuring productivity is an easy matter, and, up to a point, keeping busy will raise our productivity while in the factory. For knowledge-workers though, the metrics are much more complicated. We measure productivity via a variety of factors – our clients’ and customers’ satisfaction, our own valuation of the services and solutions we provide, bench-marking ourselves against our peers, as well as our bottom line.

But we all require rest. We all know muscle fatigue, what it feels like, and how, sometimes, without rest our bodies just won’t do what we ask of them. The same is true for the brain. A factory worker’s hands need rest, and a knowledge-worker’s brain needs rest, or they won’t be able to reach that deep level of focus which produces their best work.

And right now, I think many of us are experiencing a kind of mental fatigue, after three years of COVID-19.

I’ve written on the need for recreative time, vacations, holidays, getaways. But it’s been a while since I’ve written on the perils of work-fatigue – and they are real. Fatigue of any kind impairs memory, concentration, and decision making, as well as coordination, reaction time, and muscle strength. And work-fatigue can also lead to burnout, making us even less able to focus deeply on the solutions our clients and customers need.

Therefore, in order to continuously produce our best work, we have to avoid the trap of being busy instead of being productive. We have to rest our minds, so they can rejuvenate and refresh themselves. We can take a nap, exercise, take our spouse out to dinner, spend time playing with our children, watch a family film together. Anything which allows our brains to take some time off and kick back.

Even during our workdays, we can schedule time to check and answer emails, and not address them until that time. And every day we can schedule time to focus in and think creatively to devise productive solutions for our clients’ and customers’ needs.

To restore ourselves and our focus, we can take a walk at lunch time, meditate, whatever works to allow us some time to be alone with ourselves and our thoughts. This can be a great aid to focusing deeply.

And, at the end of our work day, we can unplug! (To the extent feasible, of course, but we should extend that feasibility as far as we can.) We can make a point every evening that we are done with work for the day. Turn off our smartphones. Shut our computers off. Enjoy an evening focusing on our families, our friends, a hobby (non-electronic!).

This isn’t a matter of stress-relief, as important as that is. Resting our minds, daily, is stress-prevention, in addition to promoting our best and deepest work. Sounds like a good combination to me.

How do you like best to rest your brain? What activities (or non-activities) outside and inside of work bring you the greatest focus and productivity during the workday, and enable you to fully focus on relaxing afterward?

Please click here to email me directly – I’d love to hear your strategies and stories.

Until next time –



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