In my work as an executive psychologist and speaker, I was hearing every day about the impact that being busy was having on people’s work as well as their lives. While I knew it was an issue, I really wanted to find out the extent of the problem. So I did some research – a survey of 140 professional people, asking them about the effects of being busy.
A universal issue
The results show a clear and undeniable picture. And it’s not a good one.
Firstly, the problem of busyness is absolutely universal. This is not just happening in fast paced companies or particularly busy teams.
Over 90% of people in the survey said that being busy affected their ability to think clearly at work, their ability to prioritise, the quality of their work and also how innovative or creative they are.
Impact on work performance
It’s also not something that’ just happening occasionally. This is having a significant impact on people’s performance and effectiveness at work a lot of the time.
50% of people said it “often” affected time for important, long term projects and 49% that it often affected time for quality thinking at work.
44% reported that it often affected their ability to see the bigger picture or think strategically and 46% that it often affected their time to develop their team.
Impact on leadership performance
While being busy affects everyone, a fundamental skill of leaders is to be able to think strategically, be crystal clear on priorities and be able to figure out how to innovate and improve what the organisation does. So this epidemic of busyness affects the very core of what we most need our leaders to do.
Surely this is something that needs to be addressed at the highest levels in organisations? If you are a C suite leader – do you really want your organisation to be full of leaders caught up in short term ‘doing’, struggling to concentrate or prioritise properly, and not getting time for the important, value added projects?
Personal impact & sustainability
Not only is there the stress and frustration of knowing they are too busy to focus on what’s most important – busyness is also taking a serious personal toll on people.
49% of the people said that being busy “often” affects their ability to switch off, 47% that it often affects their stress levels, and 42% that it often affects their sleep.
Over half said that it often affects how present they are with family or friends and how much time they have for important things in their life like exercise, hobbies or quality time with their family.
Apart from the personal cost for individuals, managing stress and maintaining good health and positive energy levels are critical components for resilience and long-term, sustainable success and performance in organisations.
Tackling the busyness epidemic needs to be at the heart of creating of a sustainable high-performance in our organisations.
Time to change
The impact of being busy on people’s work and lives can no longer be ignored. We have to recognise that being too busy is bad for our organisations and bad for the people working in them.
It’s time to stop wearing being busy as a badge of honour, a means of validating ourselves – to ourselves and to others. Instead, it should be a warning sign that something isn’t right – that something needs to change.
It’s time to stop encouraging and colluding with a culture where being ‘mad busy’ is seen as normal – even a good thing. Instead it’s time to start cultivating a culture where getting time to work on what’s really important is what’s valued. A culture of effectiveness, of adding value, of impact.
It’s time to change our relationship with being busy.
It’s time to have a different conversation.