The problem with ‘busy-ness’
May 28, 2019
We have somehow come to justify being busy as an acceptable excuse for complacency and where productivity is equated to volume rather than value. It has become the standard reply when we ask people to innovate, change, create or take a new approach to delivering an outcome, that they are too busy, or indeed busy enough as it is and cannot take on ‘more’.
This becomes an acceptable excuse because most leaders are also facing the increasing load of keeping connected, meeting customer and shareholder demands, keeping employees engaged and driving growth; so they can ‘feel the pain’ of someone in the same situation. We use this justification to procrastinate or postpone value conversations to an appropriate time in the future, such as a strategy day or budget meeting where ‘precious time’ is taken out of the day-to-day to do some thinking. I’m not surprised these tend to be unproductive in their own right, as an annoyance to the team that has to stop ‘getting things done’ in order to attend.
I find it fascinating to hear high level CEOs and senior executives tell me that nowadays ’they don’t even have the time to think’ (on strategies and the future of their business) because they are so busy. It really begs the question why they are paid, if not to think and plan strategy…
Focus on Adding Value
I’m often asked how I manage to juggle a wide range of responsibilities across different business and non-profits, family time and sport. My answer is always dismissed as being over-simplistic and unrealistic; “I focus on adding value at all times, and delegate the rest”. Typically the response I get back is that there are ‘a few good people’ to delegate to and I must be extremely lucky. Or that it’s impossible to add value all the time, as stuff just has to get done. Or that sometimes there is no one else to do it, so you have to micromanage or get stuck in low productive work. I disagree. I’ve often just dropped stuff from my task list with no real repercussion – it was more about my own hijacks of self-importance that a particular responsibility was up to me, and that no one else could do it.
People need to be given the space to make mistakes, so they can learn in step-changes rather than incremental improvements which are way too slow for today’s business needs. Failing forwards requires mitigated risk and a gung ho! attitude to delegation. We need to invite people to discover the potential in themselves by stretching them out of their comfort zone, freeing up your own time to help them out, coach, lead, and create the safety net around them for them to trust your approach. By adopting the paradigm of getting more by doing less, we can focus on our true strengths and outsource our weaknesses. The maths does add up; if I am adding more value, the business results should allow me to engage more resources, human or technological.
This applies across any business. Recruitment should focus on employing resilient people that can be flexible and curious, rather than pigeon-holed by qualifications. We need ’shapeshifters’ with growth mindsets that can adapt to ever-changing job roles, rather than follow job tasks to a tee.
Getting Technology Right
We need to invest in technology that will make our lives easier, rather than simply to ‘do more’ of what we are already doing. Technology should be helping you cross stuff off your To-Do list, not increasing it’s length. Technology should be saving you time, money, resources and energy in the long run, or it’s not the right solution. Your team should mirror that, by taking tasks ‘off you’ and running with them faster than you could possibly do alone. Enhancements should be value adding, not just doing more.
To me, busy-ness is the opposite of business. Business requires a focus on productivity through value creation, with each second employed in moving you towards your goal or vision. This mindset is driven by the ideas of Pareto, throughput accounting, kaizen, flow states, triple-bottom-line balance sheets, and hyper-productivity. Everything should focus on overcoming the constraints of resources to maximise value and outputs. On a human level, I encourage everyone to start a Not-To-Do list and do your best to bring that down to a few high level activities that focus on adding value above your pay grade. An NTD list is a neurological ‘hack’ that gives you permission to unchain yourself from busy-ness without the guilt that ties us to the need to keep occupied.
In business today you can either focus on keeping up with the pace, or staying ahead of the curve. The successful organisations will not be the ones that exhaust huge amounts of energy and resources to keep up, but those that will work differently, choosing to use their energy on high value activities and ditch the rest. It will see greater focus on core competencies, less diverse portfolios of products and services, more specialisation, and a strive towards excellence in a very narrow field of expertise. Those that try and spin too many plates will find themselves distracted and demotivated by the continuous breakages. Companies that want to grow through diversification will need to split up teams and even create separate individual businesses, so they can focus without distraction. Overheads will shrink and agility will be the name of the game.
At Shireburn we build software that aims to ease up your to-do list.
We are happy when we are under the radar, while you get stuff done with the least amount of energy as possible. Our goal is to be as inconspicuous as possible, so our cost to your business is easily justified by the opportunity we create for your team to use their time in adding value in multiples. Our Payroll, Finance, POS and other solutions are continuously sharpened by our developers so you can focus on your craft without worry. Our technology team is developing future iterations of these tools, so they remain as relevant to your business as you grow. Our support team takes the energy-and-time-consuming troubleshooting off your teams so they can get back on track as soon as possible.
Think of the ‘one click buy’ of Amazon, or the AI within Alexa; they aim to make the user require the least amount of energy to get something done; that is our continuous focus at Shireburn as our products evolve. We won’t jump onto the ‘blockchain bandwagon’ until we are certain that it will add value to you and your business, rather than being simply a self-serving enhancement to our software. AI will surely find its way into our software platforms in the near future, but with the specific aim to make your life easier, speed up your decision-making or add value in some tangible way.
Watch this space, but only if you can make the time… 🙂