“But I’m very busy,” you exclaim. “With what?” you might be asked in return. Busywork is no doubt the bane of productivity at the workplace. Then again, what IS “busywork” anyway? Dictionary.com says “…work assigned for the sake of looking or keeping busy…” and Merriam-Webster says “…work that usually appears productive or of intrinsic value but actually only keeps one occupied…” In other words, busywork is actually unproductive, hamster wheel sort of work.
Not everyone agrees that busywork is unproductive, though. In 2014, Ilya Pozin wrote in Forbes about “4 Surprising Truths About Workplace Productivity” in which he asserts that “You secretly love busywork”, “Social media actually increases productivity”, “You really can’t concentrate during the summer” and “The office temperature affects your mood.” I partially agree with the notion that “You secretly love busywork.” The other three are somewhat linked. Here are a few reasons why employers and employees alike indulge in and/ or dish out busywork.
One of the main reasons why people think that they can’t cope is because they do not have a strong enough and big enough raison d’etre. They are not sure of the WHY they are in the business or the organization. This easily leads down the slippery slope towards listlessness. Of course, since people can’t be seen as being listless at the workplace, they will resort to doing work requiring a degree of cognition ranging from nil to very low.
There is a flip side to this, though. Some tasks which have been labelled as busywork are actually rather essential to the smooth functioning of the business. Updating your accounts, filling in spreadsheets for whatever purpose or typing in summaries of your meetings with clients have been classified by some as busywork, but they are absolutely necessary. In fact, getting them done is a hallmark of diligence and thoroughness. Having finished all the mundane tasks, you would actually get a feeling of accomplishment and somehow get a better grasp of what is actually needed and how to get what’s needed done more efficiently, which of course contributes to effectiveness, for all you dichotomists out there. In searching for activities which we can gleefully label as busywork, we forget about how they fit into the overall scheme of our business. To illustrate, would you call brushing your teeth “busywork”? How about your regular daily ablutions? Oh, eating doesn’t contribute very much to productivity. In fact, it makes us sleepy and so should also be tossed into the busywork bin. You get the point.
One other reason why people say that they can’t cope is of course failing to step up to the plate and taking the task head-on. Very often, once people make that first step, they discover that that huge, unmanageable project is actually comprised of several smaller sub-projects, and they don’t all need to be tackled simultaneously. So, stop indulging in the real busywork of filing away third copies of business meeting minutes. In fact, if you contribute to running a thriving organization, no matter what your lot in that organization might be, you will find that busywork would only be found on the endangered tasks list.
He’s just not that into you
Reality check, people. If you and others around you are regularly engaged in busywork that’s really busywork, not essential chores, then you’re simply not engaged and might be better off working elsewhere, if at all. If you want to remain in the organization or continue with your line of business, then take some time off to sort out what you will decide to love about it. Let’s be very clear here, love is not a sweet old fashioned notion, love is a decision. The sweet nothings feelings will follow that decision. Period. If you can’t manage to do that, take a hike.
Now what? Beesywork, of course!
Beesywork is of course the way bees in nature work together, both efficiently and effectively, for the well-being of all members of the hive. Bees, with their comparatively minuscule brains, can’t afford to waste energy gathering essentials like pollen and nectar, so they have essentially solved the “Travelling Salesman Problem.” When a new food source is found, the bees that found it communicate the good news to the rest of the hive using an elaborate dance encompassing all the essential elements like distance, direction from the hive, what sort of nectar it offers, and so on. Other bees see to the cleanliness of the hive. Still others tend the young and some bees are even in charge of temperature regulation, fanning the hive with their wings so that there is sufficient circulation.
Learn from the bees. Ditch busywork. Start engaging in what is more akin to beesywork. Get your workplace buzzing!