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When busy is not best practice

Addressing a fake work ethic can not only free up more of your time but also make doing your job more satisfying, argues Brett Davidson, managing director of FP Advance

I’ve written in the past about the concept of ‘fake busy’; doing jobs that keep you in motion, but don’t really help you move your business forward. Taking on inappropriate clients, or failing to delegate jobs that you don’t really have to hang onto are good examples.

The bit that no one talks about is that when you try to give up being fake busy it can all get a bit uncomfortable; emotionally speaking that is.

I went for years priding myself on my work ethic. “Giving it some” was my badge of honour. However, I discovered that all this ‘busyness’ wasn’t really getting me where I wanted to go.

Over the last four years I’ve been reducing my working hours whilst maintaining my productivity.

How is that possible?

The short answer, that makes me sound really great, is that I did it by getting rid of the fake busy in my life, delegating to a great team and doing the jobs that only I can do (and love).

Whilst it’s all true, that explanation isn’t the whole story. In my work with my life coach, I’d been asked to explore ‘why’ I had stayed so fake busy for so long. I was asked to look at what my payback was for keeping myself in that state. I have to admit that’s a pretty confronting question to consider.

Does the fake busy thing affect you? Have you ever asked yourself what your payback is for keeping yourself fake busy?

Here are 10 paybacks that came up for me when I did the exercise:

1. Working hard is virtuous: I don’t know where I ever picked this up, but somehow in my brain working hard is seen as a virtue (the Protestant work ethic perhaps). I now challenge that belief whenever it arises. Just out of interest, I’m reading a biography of Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish/American capitalist, and he completely rejected the Protestant work ethic view of the world. He was all for leisure and personal development and things turned out alright for him.

2. I overcome my shortcomings: When I work hard I make up for lack of knowledge or skills, by just doing more. This was a sensible strategy when I was younger and actually didn’t know anything. Doing all that work gave me the skills and knowledge I have today, but there’s no need to keep working like that now. To do so would be mindless and just working for work’s sake.

3. It got me to here: Working hard did generate some payback in terms of progress, financial reward and personal recognition. That can be hard to let go of, even when you can see clearly that it’s no longer necessary, or sensible. It’s like a bad habit.

4. I can tell other people I’m a hard worker: In our society, letting people know you work yourself silly still gets you some sort of praise and respect, even though almost everyone I know would like to work less.

5. I don’t have to look at my skill and knowledge shortcomings: For example, if I’m not so great with technology, rather than learn a bit more about how to use it effectively, I can just grind away. Learning a new skill can be a bit of a pain. It requires me to stop, take time out and do something badly for a while, which I hate. If I just stay busy I don’t ever have to go there. That’s quite a pay off.

6. I can blame everyone but me: If I stay working hard and not addressing some of these earlier issues I can blame the government, society, the rich, the poor, immigrants, the EU, the UK, the US, IS; anyone basically, for not achieving my goals. By never having the time to reflect and look at what my work-hard mentality covers up, I can jump on the blame bandwagon. That’s much nicer for my ego than actually looking at what I might be able to do to improve myself.

7. I don’t have to confront the fact that there’s not much else going on in my life: In fact, I did this in my work with my life coach. We worked actively to get some new hobbies and interests going. I tried golf after a break of several years, but that was no good as I lived in London and didn’t own a car. One trip to the driving range cost me £40 in a taxi and £5 for the bucket of balls. Then I tried poker and found I really loved it. Now I play regularly at a home game every week that I discovered on London Meetup. I’ve played poker in a Casino or two on my travels, and I play some online poker as well. It’s become one of my major fun hobbies outside of work. Who knew that might happen just by working less?

8. I don’t have to confront relationship issues: It turns out I really enjoy spending lots of time with Deb, and we’ve really had the chance to know that’s true with our increased travel together recently. However, from time to time I/we have to confront and deal with relationship issues. When I’m at work a lot and keeping myself fake busy, I don’t have to deal with this stuff.

9. I can avoid making time for friendships and the effort required to cultivate them: I have to be honest I find maintaining friendships really tough. If I’m busy I’ve got the work excuse to fall back on and don’t ever have to confront this issue in my life.

10. I don’t ever discover that my life is a bit boring and dull: Which means that I’m a bit boring and dull as a result. Mmm. Very confronting.

The good news is I’ve actively addressed a lot of these issues over the last few years, but it’s something I have to continue working at, otherwise fake busy makes a comeback.

If you think that fake busy could be crowding out your enjoyment of your work and your life, then reflect on the payback you get out of that. I’m sure some of the issues on my personal list are universal and apply to many people. As a result, some of the work has been done for you, but it would be also be helpful to identify your own issues to work on.

What’s the payback for your fake busyness?

Once you identify the real issues it’s amazing how quickly the solutions appear.

Get cracking and good luck with it. I can assure you the effort is worth it!

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