I received an email the other day from a hospital chaplain who was given an ‘I’M NOT BUSY’ wristband by a ‘thoughtful volunteer’. It would seem that the gift did not arrive at quite the most opportune moment…
I have enjoyed your book on time wisdom and understand what it and the website ( http://www.notbusy.co.uk ) are getting at, and heartily agree with the ideas. However having talked with colleagues we are left wondering how this can apply to a working environment that has to be so much more, in fact largely, reactive. There is very little room for saying for example “Come and talk to me next Wednesday when I have free time” because the person is only here now. Patients can be made to wait an hour or two or even a day for a non-urgent visit but if they are critically ill….
To give a little taste of life in the modern NHS:
Last Friday was day 7 of a very long week for me. (My colleague and I have a pattern of working that means 7days one week 3 the next.) Last week was made harder by 2 people from the Team being on annual leave, so for more than half that time everything in the diary or on the end of the bleep or knocking on the door was mine to deal with.
It happens, that’s life here.
And of course 4 of the nights I was on-call. On Friday I had to try to help and minister to two families with baby losses and then, amongst all the ordinary stuff, a visitor approached me for a chat. Two hours later I was finally able to leave her in the Chapel for reflection. Returning to the office I found a thoughtful volunteer had left me a wrist band….
I am sorry to say that this was not received by me in the spirit in which the gift was intended! Or indeed with the intended message! Most evenings I had gone home and done nothing for a large chunk of time, as per website suggestion, but largely because I was so drained I was not capable of doing anything!
Name supplied but withheld by me
There is no easy answer to this one. But it is important to recognise that it is real.
While most of what I’M NOT BUSY is about is empowering people to understand that busyness is often self-inflicted. That’s an important and worthwhile aim. But it is unhelpful if it suggests that all chronic busyness is self-imposed – or even avoidable.
I address this issue in my eBook Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom in an Hour where I pick up a concept from an article in the Harvard Business Review called ‘The Acceleration Trap’.[i] This is how the authors, Heike Bruch and Jochen I. Menges introduce the article and summarise the idea:
Faced with intense market pressures, corporations often take on more than they can handle: They increase the number and speed of their activities, raise performance goals, shorten innovation cycles, and introduce new management technologies or organizational systems. For a while, they succeed brilliantly, but too often the CEO tries to make this furious pace the new normal. What began as an exceptional burst of achievement becomes chronic overloading, with dire consequences. Not only does the frenetic pace sap employee motivation, but the company’s focus is scattered in various directions, which can confuse customers and threaten the brand.
Realizing something is amiss, leaders frequently try to fight the symptoms instead of the cause. Interpreting employees’ lack of motivation as laziness or unjustified protest, for example, they increase the pressure, only making matters worse. Exhaustion and resignation begin to blanket the company, and the best employees defect.
And this is what I write about it in the eBook.
Their research was based on more than 600 companies. Some they diagnosed as ‘fully trapped’. In them, 60% of employees agreed or strongly agreed that they lacked sufficient resources to get their work done (whereas this was true for only 2% in companies that weren’t trapped) and 80% said that they worked under ‘constant elevated time pressure’.
The ‘Acceleration Trap’ is the corporate version of the ‘busyness syndrome’ as it afflicts individuals – the ‘new busy’. The problem is not that there is sometimes the need for exceptional levels of activity and effort. It is that this becomes the new normal.
The article analyses the problem in terms of three patterns of destructive activity. While described in organisational language they will be familiar to anyone who has become busy in the new sense. First there is overloading – that is being faced with more work than can be done. One company for instance doubled the value of its contracts without addressing capacity issues. Second there is multiloading, which means that people are asked to do too many different things. The consequence is that employees lack focus and activities are unaligned. You could think of this in terms of a lack of joined-up-ness or internal coherence. Third there is the pattern which they call perpetual loading which is the habit of constantly imposed change. This, the authors suggest, leads to relentless and debilitating frenzy.
The Acceleration Trap is where companies get stuck if they try too hard for too long.
The reality is that some people opt into the busyness syndrome whereas others have it thrust upon them.
The eBOOK Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom in an Hour costs £1.99 to download and is available in various ways.
- Kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00BDZQBFO?tag=sacristy-21
- Kobo: http://www.kobobooks.com/search/search.html?q=9781908381637
- iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/isbn9781908381637
- Nook: Coming soon!
[i] Bruch, H. and Menges, J. I. The Acceleration Trap Harvard Business Review April 2010