Being busy makes you feel active, wanted, and productive, but being busy all the time makes you inattentive, fatigued and stressed.
There’s an old management saying: “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” It’s supposed to be a way of admiring the energy and time management skills of a busy person where they simply add another task onto a list and do it because they are so practised at getting things done. It’s half a joke, but what are you getting when you give a task to a busy person who just adds it to a list?
There’s nothing wrong with being busy. In many ways, project managers choose the role because it is so active. The role necessarily comes with a problem to solve or a change that requires a new end state with decisions to make and stakeholders to manage. Unless you’re running the world’s most boring project, you will be busy.
Unfortunately, operating at this level for a prolonged period weakens some of the faculties that make project managers good at what they do. If you’re busy all the time it’s like trying to focus on everything at once and when you focus on everything, you focus on nothing.
The result is that each individual item diminishes in importance and fatigue sets in. Not just fatigue in the usual sense, but ‘issue fatigue’ as well. And at that point the project manager who is stretched too thin is a likely candidate for stress.
What can you do to escape the cult of busy?
- Recognise that quantity of tasks completed is not quality of work. Shift to working smart, not hard and don’t create work just to seem important or make yourself a martyr.
- Find assistance, whether that’s delegating, adding extra capacity to your team or even employing a new system to cope with the excess work.
- Schedule pauses so you can step back and regroup. If you never notice you’re busy it will be too late by the time you reach the burnout phase. A check-in once a week with yourself is a good idea. If you’re likely to forget or ignore it, get a friend or colleague to ask after you.
How do you know when you’re stretched too thin?