Busy Fools

October 22, 2007

If you ask somebody nowadays how they are, what do they normally tell you? Chances are that along with the usual ‘fine’, ‘doing ok’ and ‘so so’ they’ll also say ‘busy’, ‘tired’ or ‘flat out’.

We’re all more than familiar with the increased pace of life. The always-on, always-connected life of the Blackberry addicted corporate netizens most of us have become. But do you ever stop to wonder how much of our busy schedules are really unnecessary necessities? How much time we waste, or how much is wasted by others?

I’m not talking about proper, conscious time wasting activities like reading Digg, surfing for pictures of cute kittens or writing your blog (ahem). I’m talking about being a ‘busy fool’. Attending pointless meetings, producing reams of unnecessary reports (often the same information sliced in different ways for different people), dealing with administrivia, working on projects you know are never going to work, following rules and processes just because, waiting for decisions, dealing with committees, waiting for sign-off.

Do you ever think about the things you shouldn’t be doing? Actually, not just think, I mean properly stop and consciously decide to not do something? Instead of hoping for more people in your team, or wishing in vain for a bigger budget, have you ever wondered how it’s probably possible to really do more with less (as we all keep getting told) if only the items in the ‘more’ list were actually less (but higher value).

Do you subscribe to the ‘two people in a garage’ theory but never get a chance to find out?

The trick of course is not only knowing what’s important and what’s not, but also helping to educate your organisation to allow people to focus on those items. You should be ready to not do certain things, but there’s a reasonable chance that simply saying ‘no’ will get you labeled as someone who isn’t a team player or isn’t willing to play the corporate game. So you need to be open and honest in your reasons, work upwards and downwards and keep your eyes open for inefficiencies (as an example, I seem to spend a reasonable amount of time getting person A to talk to person B having noted that they’re both working on largely the same thing. This also saves person C – me – from doing the same things a third time!).

I get very frustrated at ‘make-work’ for mediocre people and sometimes, when all else fails, you simply have to walk away. I’d like to think though that we all have a part to play before it gets to that point.

As my old physics lecturer used to say ‘if you’re going to waste your time and do nothing, you should have decided beforehand that’s what you are going to do. Otherwise you’re just wasting your time.’

What are you not going to do today?