Be Less Busy

Be Less Busy

Small talk. Painful isn’t it? Particularly at work. Any conversation with someone you’ve not seen or spoken to in a while invariably starts with a discussion about how busy you both are. It’s so predictable. I quite like turning this into a game by trying to guess how long it will take before the conversation follows this path. It’s always much quicker than you expect.

No-one is ever ‘not busy’ in the corporate world. Even if things are a little quieter than usual it’s “the calm before the storm”, or some other cliché to prove that you expect to be stacked out again before too long.

I have never understood the fascination with being busy. Being busy is dull, unimaginative and unhealthy. Just think how much more interesting it would be if you started a business conversation with “yeah, I’m great thanks – took a day off yesterday to climb some mountains, cycled into work this morning and at the weekend I’m camping out in the garden with the kids”. I’d think so much more of that person and would much rather do business with them than someone whose first reaction is to tell me how busy they are.

You see, being seen to be busy has become the norm. People feel they need to show they can battle through the stress, exhaustion and misery and keep taking more on. Professionals are working in an environment where people expect top quality results, quickly and without having to pay too much for it. No wonder everyone is so busy trying to juggle these expectations.

Truth is, this can’t continue. Something’s got to give and the sad thing is it’s usually enjoyment of your personal life which is the first to suffer. Being busy all the time can only ever lead to burnout. I wouldn’t want anyone doing work for me to be burnt out. I’d want them sharpened, focused and ready to do a good job. By pushing people to be busy all the time, one of two things happen: people either suck it up and embrace the misery, wishing away time until the weekend; or leave. Both results lead to a downward spiral in the quality of service in the professions. I find that really sad.

I’ve recently been on the Northumberland coast for a few days. One night, I decided to go for a walk in the late evening. It was cold but still, the stars were out and the moon was nearly full. I found a quiet spot near the sea and did something I never used to do – I just sat. It felt strange, mischievous even, to give myself permission to stop for a moment and tune into life: the sounds of the sea; kittiwakes calling in the darkness; the soft breeze in the trees. After only a few moments, the inner voice started to quieten down and I felt a real connection with the environment around me.

I only sat for 10 minutes but the benefits I took from it were akin to having a good eight hours’ sleep. My mind was clear, I felt calmer and less resentful for having to work. I came back and wrote this post – one take, no editing, just putting my thoughts down on paper. It’s this flow that employers should be looking to encourage in the workplace – that’s how you get the best from your personnel.

So here’s a thought for those of you who manage people – trust your team to nip out during the day – not just on a lunch break. It’s not skiving, it’s not an indication that someone doesn’t have enough work to do, it’s just a way of recalibrating, allowing them to come back and do what they do best. Let’s face it, being at our desks all hours is just generating unhappy clones who only feel able to talk about how busy they are.

So next time you feel work is getting on top of you and you catch yourself telling someone that you are ridiculously busy, make a conscious effort to step away, go outside and just sit. It’s much more productive than spending those 20 minutes on Google looking for a new job.

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