Why ‘busyness’ kills goals

As a nation, we work longer hours than other European countries, 42 hours per week, and seemingly revel in the notion of being ‘busy’. Being productive isn’t interesting. Being ‘busy’ elevates you to rockstar status with friend’s and colleagues.

So what is ‘busyness?’

Busyness is a self-perpetuating loop based on the theory that those who work the longest often climb the highest. We’re all used to reading articles espousing the behaviours of leading CEOs. The common theme is working to extremes equals results. For example, Apple CEO, Tim Cook reportedly begins sending emails at 4:30 a.m and is first in the office and the last to leave.

Apple’s share price is at an all-time high. Let’s all copy Tim?

However, evidence suggests that being busy isn’t working for the UK as a whole. The Office for National Statistics reports that output (measured in GDP) per hour worked in the UK was 16.3% below the average for the rest of the G7 in 2016 and 26.2% lower than Germany.

So, why so busy?

‘Busyness’ is attributable to reduced attention spans and overloaded ‘commitment’.

*Part of busyness is due to overload and presenteeism; coming to work earlier and staying later and coming in when ill to show commitment

*Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Alliance Manchester Business School

“Being on” is a signal of willingness. However, the consequence of us being habitually unfocused is that our work is just that – unfocused.

In 2002, it was reported that, on average, we experience an interruption every eight minutes. In an eight-hour day, that is about 60 interruptions. Being so easily distractible and interruptible every second of the day is affecting our productivity.

Curbing our enthusiasm

Efforts have been made to help work flexibility and avoid burnout. France, famously passed a law in 2001 giving workers the “right to disconnect”, and Volkswagen implemented a policy in 2011 stating that it would stop email servers from sending emails to the mobile phones of employees between 6pm and 7am.

Why ‘busyness’ kills goals

Newton’s third law states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Smartphones made it easier to communicate, with the equal and opposite reaction being that too much communication is affecting our ability to work.

A University of California, Irvine study, estimated that refocusing your efforts after just one interruption can take up to 23 minutes. That same study found that the average worker switched tasks on average every three minutes.

Crucially, the study discovered that interrupted work is performed faster. “When people are constantly interrupted, they develop a mode of working faster (and writing less) to compensate for the time they know they will lose by being interrupted.”

People in the interrupted conditions experienced a higher workload, more stress, higher frustration, more time pressure, and effort. So interrupted work may be done faster, but at a price.

Focusing on the role of a recruitment consultant, the price = closed deals.

Estimate how much you could get done if you focused on what you needed to do and nothing else. Now, map those actions to hit your yearly target.

For example, break down your annual target into average net fee to calculate how many deals you need to do.

I.e. – £200k annual target at a 5k average fee is 40 deals. Ten deals per quarter.

Then examine your KPIs

  • How long does it take you to find candidates?
  • How long does it take you to take the right client brief?
  • How many of the CVs you sent to a client received an interview?
  • Of the candidates that attend an interview, how many secure the role?

Once the strategy is nailed, apply your tactics – i.e. how and where you market yourself.

Recapturing the art of productivity, some ideas:

The message is clear. The UK is not as productive as the rest of the G7. So, if we’re working longer but achieving less, what do we need to do?

  1. Prioritise. Your to-do list will always grow. Be ruthless about what you need to do to hit your targets.
  2. Break your targets down into chunks. Measure your performance and iterate how you work to achieve your targets faster.
  3. Train yourself to concentrate better. Whenever you feel like quitting – just do five more – five more minutes, five more exercises, five more pages – which will extend your focus.
  4. Download apps to help you curb your smartphone usage and stay-on track. BreakFree (iOS and Android), StayonTask (Android), Moment (iOS), Flipd (Android), Offtime (iOS, Android)
  5. We created the ultimate online recruitment toolkit.
  6. Try the Pomodoro technique. 25 minute periods of undisturbed work followed by a short break.
  7. Stop reading this article and do some work.