Most people like to be productive. We want to check off the to-do list. That feeling of accomplishment is addicting. The human brain doesn’t like things to be unfinished — this is why cliff hangers are so successful! And probably why people are still talking about the ending to The Sopranos.
Most people do not like to just be busy. We complain about “busy work” which is code for unimportant work that just needs to get done. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, busy became more than just being productive, producing a result or being available for client/customer. “Busy” started to become social status. Rather than answering the “How are you” with “Fine” we’ve begun answering with “Busy.” And if you don’t, you aren’t in demand, you aren’t important enough to be constantly busy.
You see it in the traditional Christmas chain letter, you see it on Facebook. Kids are double booked with all the activities they must be in. And in the professional world it is much worse. We can be connected to the office 24/7 and sometimes even if it isn’t said out right, there is an expectation that you will respond to that email or text message regardless of whether it is working hours or not. Most places I’ve worked have at least attempted to not contact those who are OT eligible, but if you are exempt, all bets are off. I’ve seen people contacted on their vacations and they respond back. At a previous job, a coworker was told she would never advance working only 40 hours/week. Another coworker frequently humble-bragged how many extra hours she was putting in each night [even though she would constantly rebuff offers of assistance]. The weird thing was she didn’t seem to be producing any more than I did in my usual 8 hours/day.
It was then I decided I didn’t want that life.
I don’t want to answer emails while on vacation with my family at Disney World. I don’t even want to answer emails after I get home. I don’t want to spend an additional 5 hours at home with the laptop writing job descriptions. At least not on a regular basis. I need my downtime. I enjoy vegging in front of the TV with my family, getting hooked into those 3 episodes of Sherlock we get every other year. And I definitely don’t want to be in competition with my coworkers about who puts in the most hours!
And it’s not that I don’t work hard. I just don’t want to work harder! I want to work smarter. Use the tools available to get my job done right the first time and avoid the perfection trap.
I’ve been preaching this to my staff, attempting to lead by example. We have staff who work night shift and I’ve had to tell my night shift to stay off their email during the day, reminding them that if I need to talk to them right away, I will call them. We need the break from work!
We need to be the change we want to see. If we want get away from the busy contest, we need to step outside of it and simply refuse to participate. And come up with a better answer to “How you doing?”