Monday, September 21, 2015

52 Weeks to a Simpler Life - Tip #3 – Stop the Busy Work

Parkinson's Law states, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” That seems to pretty much describe the average person's workday regardless of whether that work is employment or just chores around the homestead (fixed or mobile).

Basically, most people have an uncanny ability to “invent” work that is usually unimportant and irrelevant to anything productive. Why do we do this? Here's the tip for simplifying your life. Stop doing this!

In one way or another, I believe we all adhere to Parkinson's Law. We create work because we don't want to appear to be unproductive or have time on our hands. I believe many, if not most, people are still tied into the agricultural and industrial revolution models of life. Essentially, if you are not busy doing something, then you are slothful with your time. No one wants to be considered lazy, so we invent things to do.

Or, sometimes the busy work we create is to put off doing the actual work at hand. Perhaps the real project is distasteful to you or you just don't feel it's something you want to or should be doing, so you procrastinate by doing irrelevant “work.” You push off the actual necessary work until you can no longer let it slide.

It's All In Our Mind

I grew up, as some 75 million, or so, Baby Boomers did, the offspring of Great Depression era parents. That was a time when both the agricultural and industrial revolution models of life were still in full swing. Gainful employment was difficult, at best, to come by for large segments of the population. I'm not sure when the term “work ethic” was first used, but it certainly could have been during these times. Many people, again, perhaps most, took any work they could get whether they liked it or not and they worked hard.

My parents, post World War II, wanted a better life for their children. They did their best to make our lives (my two sisters and mine) better. But, they felt it imperative to instill the “work ethic” in us. That is not a bad thing. It's a good thing. However, technology was advancing rapidly and the world was evolving. Work was changing in many ways. Actually, for many people, because of new technologies, work was becoming easier and more efficient. However, because of the work model created through the Industrial Revolution and the efforts of the labor unions, the so-called “40 hour work week,” we were button-holed into this regimen.

Interestingly, even though there has been much progress in the world of work (for employment), according to recent Gallup Poll survey's, 70% (+/- a percentage point or two) still hate, dislike intensely or are very unsatisfied with what they do to earn their daily bread. Actually, with current technology, we can accomplish most of the necessary work in much less time than ever before. Yet, we are still tied into the 40 hour work week model. Thus, to fill the allotted time, we actually invent busy work to expand the necessary work.

On a personal level, I spent my life in entrepreneurial pursuits. For all practical intents and purposes, I always worked for myself. At the most basic level, I could create and structure my work any way I chose. I was the boss. One thing I did choose, to my benefit, was to conduct most of my business (and work) from my home. However, because my businesses had to interface with other mostly traditional businesses, I felt I had to adhere to the 40 hour work week model. That was especially true when I had employees working with me. How could I expect them to do their jobs if I didn't set the example?

So, for most of my life, I guilt-tripped myself into believing that if I wasn't working when everyone else was working, I was lazy and not pulling my weight in society. Was I wrong? Absolutely! I spent a lot of my time creating busy work, irrelevant things, to keep myself busy and to make sure, when I had employees, I was the role model for their productivity. Of course, they were also creating busy work, or doing the busy work I created for them so I could justify paying their wages.

I felt guilty if I took time off during a “work day” to do something for myself because everyone else was working. If I wanted to go to the beach for a day, it was always on a weekend, because I had to be working during the week. How dumb was that? I was the boss. I created the business and the work to be done. I could go to the beach any day I chose. It would have been smarter to go during the weekdays because there was almost no traffic and less people at the beach.

Home-based Busy Work

This same busy work mentality extends to our non-employment time, too. When we are not at our jobs, we find all kinds of busy work at home. Regardless of whether you are married or single, parents or not, we create busy work at home.

Here's the interesting thing. You may be doing this and not consciously realizing and accepting the truth. You may be creating busy work instead of simply communicating with your spouse, partner, housemate, roommate, etc. Sure, there are things to be done around the house (mobile or fixed location residence). But, how many of them are actually necessary and how many are invented to keep up the appearance of being busy?

How much easier would it be to wash a dish, a pot or pan, whatever, as you use it rather than allowing them to pile up and taking more time to wash them and put them away later. How about the garage? Why not keep the garage orderly in the first place eliminating the need to “clean out the garage.” How about getting rid of things when they are no longer relevant instead of piling and storing them so one day you have to clean out the backyard shed, the attic, the basement, the spare room and so on.

There is a thing in the world of marriage called the “Honey Do List.” It's a list of things one of the partner's, often the wife, creates for her counterpart to accomplish. Of course, the counterpart will create a list of busy work things to occupy his or her time time to push off attacking the “Honey Do List” things that often included many busy work things.

The Point

The point is simple. We all create things to do to appear busy for a variety of reasons including to create excuses why we can't do something else we'd rather not do. We also create busy work to fill our 40 hour work week so the boss will feel she is getting her money's worth out of us. It may also be an ego thing we do to make us appear more important and valuable to our co-workers, peers, friends and family. Call it what you will and regardless of the motive, it's still busy work. As one politician said in her election bid several years ago, “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.”

Busy work is simply something you invent to do to keep yourself busy for whatever underlying reason you may have. It generally serves no real purpose, changes little or nothing and results in no meaningful accomplishment.

The Bottom Line

Here's the bottom line. Stop inventing and doing busy work. It will simplify your life. If you have to think up something to do instead of going to a community fall festival with friends or family, why not just be honest and communicate? Tell your partner, spouse, children or friends you'd prefer not to go. You have a great book you'd rather read. Maybe there is a movie you'd like to sit back and watch. Perhaps you have a hobby you'd like to spend some time doing. Whatever you would actually prefer to do, be honest with yourself and everyone else. Do what you'd really enjoy doing.

At the job, do the same thing. Sometimes people find themselves in jobs, where they will be assigned busy work if they aren't constantly busy. There is the old rock pile joke. It's as if you're in a prison yard. You're asked to pick up rocks from one pile and move them to the other side of the yard and create a new rock pile. When you finish doing that, you're instructed to pick up the same rocks and move them back where they were originally. Nothing is accomplished. There is no relevance. It's simply something to keep you busy.

Perhaps, you don't want the boss to see you “slacking off.” So, you decide to refile files you've refiled over and over, just so the boss won't ask you to move the rock pile. Or, perhaps, if you always appear (operative word, “appear”) to be very busy, you'll be moved up the promotion ladder or, at least, get a pay raise. Are you really adding anything to the business? Not actually. You are probably an example of the “Peter Principle.” If you don't know what that is, look it up.

In all cases, creating and accomplishing busy work generally results in filling time with usually unnecessary activity that accomplished nothing useful or meaningful. Maybe your employment isn't meaningfully keeping you busy doing something relevant and toward the goals of the business. Perhaps a meeting with your supervisor or manager or the president of the company is in order. Discuss ideas and ways to utilize your time and abilities to better advantage for the business. This will provide a positive outcome for the business and result in a fulfilling work experience for yourself. Maybe your position only requires a part-time commitment. Maybe you can work the other part-time in another part of the business. Maybe you need two part-time jobs in two different businesses.

Start off by evaluating everything you do that is really mission related at your job. Then determine how much of your time is spent creating ways to fill up excess time. This requires a totally honest assessment of everything you do. Perhaps, you are accomplishing everything expected of you in your job in half a day. Explain this to your employer. He or she may be willing to pay you for your productivity and allow you to take the rest of the day off. You've accomplished what you were hired for. They got their money's worth. A former brother-in-law of mine did exactly that and ended up retiring a millionaire in his 40's.

By simplifying your personal life, you may accomplish the same objective outside the job. Spend less time creating work and attempting to impress everyone with how busy you are. You don't need to feel guilty not working when everyone else is. Life is short. Break it all down to the least common denominator. On the most basic level, we work to survive, and to take care of the basic needs we have. If you can accomplish that and enjoy some of your wants in four hours a day, why spend four or more hours creating unnecessary busy work? To impress friends or excuse yourself out of other activities you'd rather not participate in?

Eliminate busy work and simply your life.

1 comment:

Richard Rosen said...

One purpose for the often extraordinary amount of time consumed in the workplace is whether or not the we would use extra time constructively or destructively. The Scripture comes to mind: An idle mind is the devil’s playground (Philippians 4:8).

The less advanced and more base a civilization and its population is, the more important is it to be occupied with the maintenance tasks of living. Otherwise, excessive free time is used in the unprincipled pursuit of leisure time activities that are destructive to the individual and to society. Think about unearned wealth that is squandered in self-indulgent or worse living.

By contrast, a person who seeks to serve and benefit others will use that time constructively and well. It is a question of values as to how extra leisure time is used.