It appears we’re all really busy these days.
How are you? “really busy”, “crazy busy”, “manically busy” come the replies.
Nope, ordinary “busy” is not enough to win a badge of honour these days. This Gordon’s gin and tonic advert on the subject makes me smile.
Busy or Busy Fool?
There is a disease in business that is on the increase, and if unchecked, it leads to inefficiency, higher costs and burnout. I call this disease busyfoolitus. Variations upon the theme of “yet another week of meetings, site visits and email, so I haven’t achieved what I wanted to.” Seems to be a common reply to my question of “how’s it going them?” One Senior Leadership Team recently discussed ways’ of helping their staff deal with this. A time management course was a hotly favoured solution, until I suggested that we look a little deeper into what might be the source of this behaviour.
What is Busyfoolitus?
It’s when you’re always in action, doing things, you have a to-do list that seems to get longer, not shorter. The critical aspect is that you can do all these things and still achieve nothing as a result. While you can’t always see the link between an action and an outcome, overall you do get some indication of the contribution factor.
For example, you could spend your day going to meetings, sending and replying to emails / IM’s, writing PowerPoint slides or 1-page summaries for meetings. And upon reflection, realise that nothing is different.
Pareto’s law says that 20% of our actions will deliver 80% of our results. Our focus then should be on working out which of our actions make up that 20%.
Here is just one of the everyday habits that provide the perfect breeding ground for busyfoolitus to spread.
All meetings have a purpose. There is some reason or outcome for getting everyone together. Firstly be clear what it is. That way you know who needs to be there, what you require from them as their contribution and how long this will all take. Then when you construct the agenda, you can pass on this clarity in your invitation.
Your thought process might go something like this. The meeting on the 27th May is to review the progress of project jalopy and decide whether we invest in solution X or solution Y. Bill will spend 10 minutes updating us on the results of the recent perfume study. Then there will be 5 minutes for questions, and we’ll move on to Sandra, etc…. After we’ve heard from Bill, Sandra and Anneke we’ll be able to decide if we invest in X or we invest in Y; and that final decision should take no more than 20 minutes to conclude. Then you articulate this thought process as a structure, which is then communicated as the agenda. This level of clarity allows attendees to know what’s expected.
No (or poor) meeting agenda
How many times do you get pulled into meetings and you’re not sure why? Or you were told why but now you’re there the reason seems to have morphed or evaporated.
How many of your staff attend meetings when they don’t know what the outcome of the meeting is? Or what their contribution is. Or they don’t know how long they have to present, so arrive with material that would take 30 minutes to cover, only to find they were allocated 15 minutes, but that wasn’t communicated. Plus due to overruns in order for the meeting to finish on time they now only have 7 minutes.
Of course, the best is when a person’s ego gets caught up in their presentation. If he took 30 minutes instead of the 15 that were allotted, then I shall take at least twice as long too because I’m equally important if not more so. Thereby forgetting that the sign of a great leader is someone who can bring a disaster back on track and deliver it to success. And yes that skill includes meetings too.
How many of your staff stay in meetings when it’s clear they’ve lost their way, or the purpose has shifted within the first 10 minutes, and they’re no longer clear if they’re required or not?
Then again, how many meetings get hijacked by a favourite subject, the current hobby horse of the moment. Suddenly there’s lots of energy and discussion and if you sat back and listened you’d realise that the conversation is going nowhere. Initially, it may have had some loose connection to the meeting but has now veered off and got a life of its own.
Having facilitated more events and meetings than I can remember, I’ve seen more than my fair share of the above. In fact, stick me in a meeting as an observer, and I can tell you who the great leaders are. Again title doesn’t denote anything.
Using Pareto’s Law
Now if 20% of your actions deliver 80% of your results, you could spend time documenting all your activities throughout the day and see which produced. Then again, you could get clear before every action as to the point of it. What will be different afterwards? Then keeping that in mind as you undertake the activity, you’ll have instant feedback as to how far on or off track you are. The more practised and accomplished you become at working with that level of clarity, the more you can help everyone you engage with also work with clarity.
I’ve said that authentic success is about no longer selling out, compromising or blending in at the expense of yourself and results. I’ve met too many people who engage in the above meeting rituals with their peers and won’t say anything because that would mean standing up and standing out. Yet that’s part and parcel of being a leader. Even in a room full of leaders, you have to remember you’re still a leader.