Digital communication tools cause companies to confuse busyness with productivity
One summer, I was advised to monitor Slack, a messaging and collaboration tool, to make sure a colleague I supervised was working. “Make sure the green light next to his name is on,” I was told. My eyes widened in disbelief.
“Being on Slack doesn’t mean you’re working,” I thought to myself. In fact, it may mean the opposite. In a given day you may get Slack messages about anything and everything: lunch, self-promotions, random jokes and pictures, and perhaps a work-related question or two. The same can be said for email.
Companies put too much emphasis on busyness behaviors, like being actively available on Slack, and not enough on productivity. Employees feel compelled to constantly check and immediately respond to digital devices. But doing so takes time and attention away from their actual work. Indeed, the reliance on digital communication tools is causing companies to confuse busyness with productivity.
Looking Busy at Work…
Busyness is the stuff — attending unnecessary meetings, constantly answering emails, and monitoring instant messenger — that gets in the way of productivity. Think of it like the filler information found in some books: it makes the book longer, but it can easily be eliminated because it doesn’t add much value, if any.
Unfortunately, many workplaces have adopted the “busy” mindset. They’re focused on the filler, like seeing how much time an employee spends on Slack or tracking the number of emails or messages that person sends each week. But how effective is this?
Not very. Busyness doesn’t get stuff done. Sending more emails and Slack messages won’t result in a business proposal or a new website design. If we’re not meeting regularly or responding to emails within an hour, some may think that we’re not working. But that’s just not the case. Rather, we’re trying to be productive.
Doesn’t Mean You’re Productive
Companies that favor productivity are results-oriented. They’re interested in the outcome, not the filler. They want to know what employees accomplish. A salesman brings in $10,000 in revenue each month, for example, or a writer completes two articles each week. Productivity-oriented companies tend to give their employees the freedom to get their work done, since they’re interested in the end result — not the path an employee takes to get there. So it doesn’t matter if you spend two hours or twenty minutes on email; just get the job done.
I used this hands-off approach with my colleague. Instead of pressuring him about being on Slack all day, I gave him the space to get his work done. I was most concerned about the outcome. Turning in quality work by established deadlines mattered much more to me than spending a set number of hours idling on Slack. The approach worked very well, and saved us both a lot of time and mental energy.
I’m not saying that we should never use digital communication tools again. But they give companies an excuse to overemphasize busyness behaviors that negatively impact our productivity.
It’s a Personal Choice
It may take some time for companies to realize that the difference between busyness and productivity matters. But you don’t have to wait on them: being productive is a personal choice.
Productive people are proactive. They begin their day with intent and have clearly defined outcomes. Productive people eliminate frivolous activities, so they can focus on the tasks at hand and be effective with their time. Although they use digital communication tools, they’re smart about when, how, and why they use them.
Busy people, on the other hand, tend to be reactive, which is why they’re busy. They say “yes” to unnecessary meetings, take on more tasks than they should, and spend large chunks of time on email, Slack, and the like. It’s no wonder they’re frantically on the run and their calendars look like a colored matrix of colored blocks!
The good news is that you can become more productive and reduce the busyness in your life. Reduce the number of times you check email and social media. Say “no” to extraneous requests. Eliminate the filler in your life, like the number of nights you watch TV.
Choosing productivity over busyness is an effective way to get work done and achieve your goals. Simply put, if you want to look like you’re getting stuff done, be busy. But if you actually want to accomplish something, choose to be productive.
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