Busy Does Not Equal Valuable

Here are a couple of interesting stats:

  1. New Zealand’s productivity (as measured by GDP) is largely driven by more goods and services being delivered by more hours being worked by more people (Productivity by the Numbers 2023, New Zealand Productivity Commission)
  1. As of June 2023, we as a nation of workers are currently at 22.0% burnt-out risk (compared to 8% risk pre-pandemic). The second biggest threat to increasing burnout risk is ‘workload’ (10 times risk). (Professor Jarrod Haar, Massey University)

As I try to digest these stats, I’m wondering ‘what is going on here?’ These trends and numbers aren’t sustainable. It seems as though the story we tell ourselves is that hard work is good work, and if we just work harder, we’ll be OK. Busy = valuable.

We’re going hard. But, to use a cycling analogy, it seems like we’re pedalling like crazy in low gear, merely inching our way forward, becoming increasingly burned out as we go. To anyone watching, it would almost look laughable!

What’s the solution? There are structural solutions and there are personal solutions. Let’s focus on the personal ones, because, for most of us, that’s the stuff we have the most control over.

In my experience, there are at least three 'isms’ that drive our busyness: 

  • Short-term-ism: it’s how much I get done today that matters most
  • Perfectionism: I won’t stop until it’s perfect
  • Heroism: I need to do it because I’m the best person / it’s my job to / no-one else will

Earlier in my leadership career, I had a massive burnout experience. It took me five years to recover my confidence to lead again. All three of those ‘ism’s were at play in contributing to my burnout. Particularly heroism. I felt such a strong need to prove myself to my team, my boss and to my clients that I worked crazy hours, sometimes drinking six Red Bulls a day just to keep going! Not good.

The antidote to each of these ‘isms’ starts with telling ourselves a different story.

For short-term-ism, the story becomes “what matters most is to create something durable over the long-term”

For perfectionism, the story becomes “perfection is in the process, not the outcome”

For heroism, the story becomes “productivity happens best when I / we mindfully manage our energy, intentions, attention and time”

From there, you can make different choices, both for yourself and with your people.

While these ideas can apply to everyone, the people that have the greatest impact are those who lead others. As a leader, you have a disproportionate impact on those around you. People take their cues from you. So it’s wise to deliberately cultivate the mindsets and behaviours that lead to sustained performance. 

What stories are you telling yourself? And what choices could you make today?

For a useful tool to help upgrade your ‘ism’s, check out Bigger Me

For more ideas on staying unhurriedly productive, check out:

Three ‘Isms’ That Drive Our Hurriedness

Create the Conditions

Fresh Insights on Unhurried Productivity

Photo Credit: Midjourney.com

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