The Office Coach offers advice to an employer whose staff complain that they are always too busy to get the job done.

My employees consistently complain about how busy they are and that they don’t have enough time to get the required work done. How can I rid my business of the culture of ‘too busy’?

People wear the label ‘busy’ as a badge of honour and it’s everywhere, not just in your workplace.

There is a glorification of ‘busy’ in our society and it’s become a source of self-worth. This is especially true for women, who often feel guilty about taking time off for themselves.

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So how did we arrive here, in a so-slammed-I-can’t-think-straight, no-time-to-eat, deadline-driven society?

It could stem, in part, from our culture of options – there are so many things competing for our attention.

Advances in technology have also warped how we communicate; we seek instant responses and gratification which go against time management tools like prioritising and scheduling.

There is a glorification of ‘busy’ in our society and it’s become a source of self-worth. This is especially true for women, who often feel guilty about taking time off for themselves

Another element is how we define ourselves based on what we do, instead of what we’re interested in – it’s becoming commonplace, particularly for those who are career-driven.

Busy does not equal productive

You know this and the challenge is to find ways to help your employees realise and accept this in a society that is screaming the opposite.

Start by expressing the downside of being busy

While having a jam-packed calendar can feel like an achievement, there are very real drawbacks linked to the always-busy culture.

If individuals are always busy and having to work evenings, taking away their family time, it has a negative impact on well-being.

In a busy world, couples either don’t have time to fight and leave issues unresolved, or they’re so stressed that they fight all the time. And when women are pressed for time, they tend to see their friends less – a huge setback considering that social networks are key to our overall physical and mental health and longevity.

With no time to spare, you miss the opportunity to appreciate the positives in life

You might come home and notice your house is a mess, but forget that you have two happy children and that there is laughter filling your home.

Of course, the need to be busy can be a way to stave off negative feelings, too

If you’re always busy, you might feel like you don’t have to deal with trauma, stress or anxiety that may be bothering you. It can also fill a void.

Discredit the busyness myth

Barbara Hemphill, founder of the Productive Environment Institute and an expert on time management, says that being productive means accomplishing those tasks that will get you closer to meeting your goals. Any other tasks that don’t help you to do so are just clutter.

Saying it as plainly as this breaks through all the noise and states very clearly that claiming they are too busy is something you view negatively, that you require your staff to be more goal-oriented and therefore more productive. Busy is, quite simply, not OK!

“Being productive means accomplishing those tasks that will get you closer to meeting your goals. Any other tasks that don’t help you to do so are just clutter”

How to break free from the too-busy trap

Slowing down the wheel isn’t going to happen overnight, but there are small changes you can coach your team to make, to help them prioritise other parts of their life and find some much-needed down time so they don’t burn out by mid-year.

Instead of letting your employees pile things one on top of the other, and wondering how to stop the rollercoaster, you need to give them permission to do things differently.

1. Be a leader

Demonstrate time management skills like goal setting, prioritisation, delegation and saying ‘No’. Talk through each of these with your employees, using their ‘to do’ lists as working examples and outline the thoughts and actions that go into your own time management. Challenge them when they say that they are too busy – ask what exactly they are working on and why they are doing so. This will force them to think critically about what goals they are working towards and whether their actions are clutter or not.

2. Identify the time-wasters

There will be activities that waste everyone’s time; identify these and look creatively at how they can be minimised. For example, a client of ours recently installed a drinks fridge and coffee machine in the office after they realised how much time their employees were wasting walking to the local Spar for refreshments through the day. Also look at behaviour like gossiping in the office; this is time-consuming, unnecessary and totally counter-productive.

3. Be a little counter-cultural

Beating busyness means not doing what everyone else is doing. It might seem ‘off’ to not answer emails after work, or leave your smartphone in a drawer and focus on your family – but these changes will ultimately allow you more time for what’s important.

Allow your employees to make changes to their existing work practices. For example, dedicate a quiet room to thinking work. Allow employees to sit there, uninterrupted, while they draft reports or brainstorm solutions to problems in the workplace. Make it a rule that they may not use their phones or computers for anything other than research while they are in there; no phone calls, email or Facebook. These changes may feel uncomfortable or they may be met with resistance. Encourage your employees to focus on and communicate the impact these changes have on output or productivity.

That’s the WHAT and WHY. For workshops that help you unlock the HOW, contact [email protected]