On my way to work the other morning, I got a chance to catch an interesting thread on Reddit about those people who exaggerate how busy they are. It was great to read comments that were so genuinely honest, and it’s something I’ve seen a lot lately – people who are ‘busy being busy’.
One redditor mentioned a former ‘boss was a crazy workaholic who worked 16 hour days without getting anything done’. It got me thinking about different coworkers I’ve had in the past, some of whom appeared to constantly be under enormous stress and were always very busy. When 4pm rolls around and they’re still catching up on nonessential tasks, it leads to stress because they still have to do essential tasks.
People sometimes equate being busy to being essential at work.
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” – Socrates
I’ve blogged about productivity before, but for this article I’m focusing on ‘Busywork’ which are just activities that provide little value, take up time and distract you from the tasks that can provide more value.
I was inspired by The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss to examine exactly what we spend our time doing at work, and whether it is valuable to the company or not. If you take time to assess whether a task is valuable you will be able to prioritise, and even eliminate, items that are worthless in the overall scheme of things. Take away the ‘busywork’ and you will have more time to focus on the things that matter.
The workplace doesn’t have to be stressful.
Which of your tasks provide the most value to your company?
Make a list of the things you need to get done, and assign each task a priority. Then re-write this list in order of priority.
If you’re being asked to design a landing page that will receive a small number of views, and you know that you there is a high bounce rate that should be looked at, get the bounce rate sorted first. What good is an attractive landing page with minimum traffic if the visitors will bounce before they sign up to your service?
Fixing the high bounce rate on your existing application would be more valuable to a company than working on ways to promote that application. That would be number 1 on your list, and the pretty landing page should be somewhere in the middle.
2. Stop Being Busy, Start Being Effective
This is the most important point – get the high-value tasks done first. Take your list from step 1, and do this thing first.
When you get the most important thing done, cross it off your list and treat-yo-self.
I make a list every morning of the items I need to get done that day, and when I finish the first item, I get a coffee as a reward.
3. Focus On Quality, Not Quantity
Take tasks one at a time. Open only the applications you need for a specific task, and focus on that singular thing until you get it finished.
Since I started to pay particular attention to time management, my time suddenly opened up and I was able to get everything I needed to get done each day. There are always things we would ‘like’ or ‘want’ to get done, but focus on the quality of the important stuff first. There may be a few things on your list that are of low-priority, they can wait.
4. Assign, Manage and Delegate.
I once had a coworker who always seemed busy, but when they moved on to a new job, the company decided not to hire a replacement. It occurred to me that even though this person was highly stressed and always appeared to be busy, the work they did was completely unnecessary. Designing beautiful emails and landing pages looked great in a presentation, but ultimately they didn’t lead to conversions.
“One of the very worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not be done at all.” – Brian Tracy
The tasks this person was assigned were of low-value, and looking back, it should have been recognised by the manager. A manager is in a better position to coach people on the priority of tasks and introduce them to better productivity methods. No one benefits from a stressed out coworker. It’s in the interest of the team leader to make sure their team are happy and are working efficiently.
5. Learn To Say ‘No’
Something I struggled with initially was that I was always saying ‘yes’ even if I wasn’t sure how I was going to fit something into my schedule. As designers, we’re able to create graphics for social media, design emails, make landing pages and lots of other interesting things, but they can be distracting from the main goals of a project.
Drawing up an actual list of everything you have to do has 2 benefits. First, you will be able to physically cross off tasks as you complete them. Second, you can show someone how many things you have to do if they are asking you to do something on-the-fly.
If you’re working in an agile environment, politely ask if it something that can wait until the next scrum.
You shouldn’t always have to stay late in work to get stuff done. I accept that occasionally we all need to put in extra time to meet deadlines on time, but it shouldn’t become a habit. Your personal life is important. Your weekends and evenings are your own to spend however you want.
“Barney, give this guy a cigarette. He’s freaking out.”