How busy someone is and how productive they are can be two very different things. Being busy can become a vicious circle. We can get so busy and have so many plates to keep spinning that we don’t actually manage to make much headway; we achieve relatively little. We can then become demoralised because we feel we aren’t getting anywhere. When morale goes down energy levels go down too. Less energy makes us less productive. Being less productive means we feel we have to do more, so we become busier, but not necessarily more productive.
If we are not careful it can lead into a vicious circle of stress too. If our energy levels are low, but we have a lot to do, we can feel overwhelmed. We can then feel that we have little control over our work and that’s what opens the door to stress.
So, what can be done about this? Well, the first thing we need to do is to stop and think (good old reflective practice). Pressing on regardless and not trying to get to grips with the challenges we face is not likely to help at all. We then need to work out what it is that we are trying to achieve, what our various goals are. We then need to weigh up the various activities that we get engaged in and categorise them in terms of how useful they are when it comes to achieving whatever it is we need to get done. We can use the traffic lights approach for this:
RED These are things that are just not getting us anywhere. Perhaps we are involved in these out of habit or tradition, a powerful force in any organisation (many unproductive meetings, for example) or may have evolved without any plan or specific direction. This type of dead time is more common in organisational life than most people realise. The more worn out people are, the more this happens, so an important step forward is to cut out from your schedule those things that don’t actually get you moving in the direction you need to go in.
AMBER These are activities that may help you move forward or may not, depending on a number of factors. Some of these you will need to let go of, but others may well be worth retaining. Working out which is which can be difficult and may need a lot of thought. Sometimes it can be helpful to discuss these in supervision or with a mentor if you get chance, as an independent view of the situation can often be helpful.
GREEN These are the things that are positive and productive; they help you move forward. Make sure you hold on to these and, if you can, do more of them. Ironically too many RED or AMBER activities can often mean that the positive activities get squeezed out. For example, I have lost count of the number of people who have told me that they get too busy to think and largely do their work on automatic pilot – they have lost sight of how dangerous it is to be doing their job without thinking about what they are doing. They are also not realising that if they did more thinking (planning, analysing, reviewing and learning), they might be more effective and less likely to get drawn into the RED or AMBER zones.
This approach won’t work for everyone, but it can make a big difference. It can help to make sure that all the effort you put into your work is worthwhile and helps you to get somewhere (or decide on a difference tack if it is not getting you anywhere). The more pressurised the work setting the more valuable – and necessary – this approach can be,