Don’t Work Just To Be Busy
A few months ago, an old friend and former coworker reached out to me, wanting to grab coffee.
Matt was working at a small company and feeling entrepreneurial. Worth noting, and the inspiration for this post, was when we delved into the frustrations he had with his current bosses at his young, small company.
Matt’s company was good at a particular thing, and they got to a moderate level of success providing services related to that. But his company was at a temporary plateau. Since they weren’t growing at the moment through their main offering, they were experimenting with ideas in different verticals, or service offerings, to continue to grow their company.
The issue however was that these experiments were a stretch to offer, and this company wasn’t good at them. Matt as well as his bosses were certain that their plateau was temporary, but they were anxious to keep growing anyway.
Matt’s bosses were looking to stay busy rather than be productive.
It’s fun interacting with people in person and on social media. Everyone wants to be busy.
“How’s everything going?”
“Oh yea, I’m so busy too…”
Part of the reason why people are obsessed with doing stuff just for the sake of doing stuff can be seen on the employee and entrepreneur side.
The leisurely aristocrats of the early 20th century were replaced by the no-sleep young tech billionaires of the 21st. At the top of the tech boom are young stars and their armies of overworked young talent, each of them looking to earn their battle stripes as they slog through 80 hour work weeks and frown upon those who are cognizant enough to find that ridiculous.
There are also have outspoken entrepreneurs like Gary Vaynerchuk who will scream at you to keep working, keep working, keep working, with no excuses. People eat this guy up.
Then there are ads like this:
…and passive aggressive quotes clogging every entrepreneur-related Instagram page like:
A side note: Jerry Chen talks about how dumb Instagram has gotten here.
Practically every single person and company is telling everyone that they’re probably not working hard enough. Quick rest periods between burnouts has become the new norm.
This is a curious thing, because most technology advances have allowed us to do more with less. When this first started happening at an accelerated pace, people thought we would actually use technology to better our work lives. The economist John Maynard Keyes wrote a famous essay in 1930 predicting a 3 hour workday, and others wrote about a future in which people would have to cope with having nothing to do.
Unfortunately, today there are many companies and entire industries that laugh at the premise of a “short” 40 hour work week, and as a business owner, there are stretches of time that will legitimately require a high amount of hours.
But if you have a choice, are you putting in these hours for a reason? Or because you can’t help yourself?
The mediocre entrepreneur will simply hustle her way to moderate success. But once a company gets out of infancy, having too much to do means a few things:
- They do not know how to delegate properly
- They are doing too much busywork rather than being productive (work for work’s sake)
In order to have or achieve more than the average person, work will get you out of the herd, but leverage will keep you there. Leverage can not be had if the work that you produce is not productive.
Going back to Matt’s company — his employers were wasting resources on projects that were not conducive to the overall vision of the company, so the work they were producing was pulling people away from that vision, which is detrimental.
So what are the benefits of getting rid of pointless busywork?
Clarity of Thought
While articulating my thoughts on this post, I got stuck. Rather than keep writing, which I felt an urge to do just so I could pump out content, I stopped. I grabbed food, dined at the restaurant, blasted music on the ride home, and came back with an altered title and an angle.
Your mind needs the ebbs and flows of going in and out of intense focus. Our connected world provides a lot of distractions, but unplugging and powering through with no breaks isn’t always the best (or even the quickest) way to get something done.
When you get into the habit of not doing things that don’t need to be done, you cultivate the mindset of seeing what’s ahead, and preparing for it.
Matt’s bosses could have designed processes in their downtime to better serve their future clients when the market was ready to respond to them again. Instead, they are distracting themselves with work that will weaken the foundation of their offering.
I know these things because I have experienced them within my experiences of building my own companies. In each one of our marketing pushes, we initially spent a certain amount of money and received a negative return on our investment. There were times where we honestly couldn’t think of anything else to do, which is where many people would quit and move on to the next marketing avenue.But we waited, and each most cases, there was a turning point that led to a positive and growing return on our investments.
In some cases, I have absolutely no idea what the difference was.
It seems as though patience was the only thing that helped us win.
When it comes to your business, you will gain the most leverage by working only on things that are impactful, and delegating that which is less impactful. Ignore the things that don’t matter, even if that means not having anything to do.