You have time to lean, you have time to clean. The mantra of work, to always look busy. As a child I remember that every time that I told my parents that I was bored that I would be redirected into chores around the house. This was later reinforced in the military where availability was a skill set. Always pushing people to either be busy or act busy.
Buried deep into our psyche is the busyness trait. The drive to always be busy or look busy when in the presence of others. It has become a status symbol for American culture.
Yet busy isn’t where great work comes from. Busy leads to shallow work and bad decisions. Releasing yourself from busyness increases cognitive bandwidth that enables a competitive advantage for any organization.
A manager fears that their team isn’t busy. Their boss may come around and think that they are not a capable manager. Possibly even worse, their boss may believe that they have too many people and could lose some.
Bosses will build up task lists unconsciously to keep people busy. To gain a full utilization of the people they employ. They don’t necessary ensure that all tasks create value for the organization. They just worry about the effort.
This leads to tasks that occupy time and create no value. Circling back to the coined bullshit tasks. These are the nice to haves, but not the purpose for work.
Time filler tasks can screw up value-based tasks. They impede the bottom line of what the organization is trying to accomplish. It also creates a world where the organization creates an inability to prioritize their goals.
Let’s take a production facility for example. In this scenario work shuts down temporarily to resolve an engineering issue. The work crews are now unoccupied.
The manager then sends the crew to complete their online training. The organization though doesn’t care if skills were upgraded. They are more concerned with the crew occupying their time and looking busy.
Space during the day enables mind wandering. This increases the frontal alpha power associated with creativity. We substitute tasks instead of letting our mind think deeply. That deep level of thought is needed by organizations to grow and survive the long term.
Think in terms of the needs of knowledge workers. They must create new knowledge, ideas, thoughts, and processes. This gives an organization unique intellectual property, a competitive advantage. To obtain that a mind needs bandwidth to operate. The mind works differently than a production line.
One of my favorite exercises when meeting with clients at their office was to see if there were books in the offices. They are good for reference, inspiring new ideas, and bringing a collegian approach. Yet people typically don’t get caught reading at work, people won’t think you are busy enough. Books then tend to be great work decorations.
As a leader in your organization look to clear out some space in your team’s schedule for thinking and mind wandering. I’ve mentioned earlier of how to clean up your task list. Apply that same methodology for your team. Then show acceptance for them letting their mind wander during the day.
One way to clean up the to do list, is to have a forbearance list of things you will never do. These are the items that have proven to have no or little value. Why do we continue to do these things? Out of habit.
I once color coordinated my closet. It looked great for a month, but it essentially did nothing of value and reverted to its usual state. At work we have people attend meetings that they don’t need to. What do you do in the office that you never need to do again?
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