Busy or Productive – Which Are You?

Bees are busy and productive making honey.
Bees have a good reason to be busy! (Photo from Shutterstock, © Sergey Peterman)

It’s not so much how busy you are, but why you are busy. The bee is praised. The mosquito is swatted.
-attributed to Mary O’Connor

I remember something from the very beginning of my business career: my manager gave me a small-ish assignment. No sooner had he finished speaking than I sprang out of my chair to go … what? where? I didn’t know, since I hadn’t yet read the paper he handed me.

I was a willing worker. I wanted to be busy. And I wanted to be productive. But I didn’t have the wisdom to think through my assignment and form a sound strategy. I was an immature bee.

A classic article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Beware The Busy Manager” explains the problem. The authors, Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal, asked, are the least effective executives the ones who look like they are doing the most? To answer the question, they spent 10 years studying executives at large and prestigious companies: Lufthansa, Sony, and LG Electronics, among others. Their main finding was that in these premier companies, with managers who were highly educated, motivated, and well-compensated, managers squandered their time in all kinds of ineffective activities.

No one wants to imagine that they are spending their days doing “busy work.” We identify with the bee, not the mosquito. But if you find that you are perpetually short of time, ask yourself whether you are favoring busy-ness at the expense of productivity.

Challenge your busy-ness habit.

  • When you have a decision to make, sit still for one minute and concentrate on your breathing. Or squeeze a tennis ball. Don’t be afraid to be seen “doing nothing.” Those times of reflection are what managers are paid for.
  • If something is truly an important activity, schedule it in the calendar. If a task can’t find a slot in the calendar, that is a good indication that it is not really important enough.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Ask yourself, what is the final goal? Is what I’m doing contributing to reaching that goal?
  • Make sure you are focused on whatever you’re doing. Work with purpose.

Don’t be a mosquito. Emulate the bee, and use your activity to make something sweet!

 

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