Alannah Filip – one of our consultants, was recently asked by our Head of Marketing to provide her view on the following article which is titled ‘People Who Brag About Being in Back-to-Back Meetings Deeply Misunderstand Productivity.’ The author makes the humorous remark about how the Buddha’s empty calendar explains an alternate reality.
Here is Alannah’s take.
“I definitely roll my eyes when people feel the need to show off and brag about their latest work conquests But then upon introspection, I thought, how often do I hear about how busy people are in general or tell people how busy I am? When someone asks how we are doing, often we give a default reply with something along the lines of how we are keeping busy. Or if someone begins listing all of the things they have planned, and we don’t have as much in the diary, we begin to feel inferior and subconsciously measure our esteem by whether we are busier than someone else. But with remote working accelerating the number of meetings being booked into people’s diaries, is it the new norm to be as busy as possible? And is this okay?
I think sometimes it is inevitable that we are busy; but it is the driving force behind being busy that is important. If one must brag about it to make themselves important, then it is ego-driven. Research indicates that an individual's perceived level of busyness may be heavily connected to their self-worth, as well as how others view their status. Just as the recruiter tells Denning, the author of the article - “…that’s when you know your time is valuable”, defining our value by how busy we are stems back to evolution and survival of the fittest. Bragging about our busyness signals just how much we are in demand and how much we and our skills are valued. Thus, by telling others that we are busy all the time, we are implicitly suggesting that we are wanted, which enhances our perceived status.
Denning suspects the recruiter isn’t actually undertaking any work that is making him busy; it’s just a façade defined by how many people seemingly want to meet with him. Even during his meeting with Denning, he spoke about his latest work conquests and availability rather than the very thing he wanted to meet with him for - business proposal.
Being busy isn’t the same as being productive. If someone is working 80 hours per week, are they really managing their time properly? If someone is always reminding me how busy they are, in their eyes they may feel desired, but I am instead thinking how they may be inadequate at planning or should consider delegating or saying no to things that don’t serve them. Being busy and being productive can often be confused with one another. If you are busy, you may have a lot to do, but this doesn't necessarily mean you are using your time efficiently. Being busy has to do with how you spend your time, whereas productivity has more to do with what you accomplish.
However, remote working during the pandemic has led to an increase in organised and sometimes back-to-back meetings, with people then working longer hours in order to catch-up on their work. Meetings are however inevitable for some people’s jobs. We’re now operating in work environments that demand more of our time, effort, and resources than ever before. Denning suggests that if the person is too busy to get anything done, the outcome will never be reached. This can be true and therefore it may be a good idea to question whether the meeting is needed in the first place. Yet while Denning posits that a completely empty calendar is the answer, I disagree with him. The ‘doing’ does get done outside of meetings but a lot of creativity comes from collaboration and brainstorming with other people as well as relationship building - especially in the new world of hybrid which means meetings are inevitable. Instead there just needs to be a better way of considering whether they are absolutely necessary.
Whether a person brags about being busy or is genuinely busy and can’t help it, it is important to look at the knock-on effect of this. A lot of workplaces are adopting more flexible workstyles such as activity-based working and hybrid working, endeavouring to minimise old traditional work expectations such as presenteeism. But if valuing how busy someone is becomes the norm and we judge how hard working someone is based on a filled diary, are we going to begin correlating this with our merit, thus feeding into digital presenteeism instead? And what about businesses taking on too many clients to seem busy and well sought after rather than focusing on finding the right synergistic fit? Choosing quality over quantity in terms of clients and projects gets my vote any day.”