We must stop glorifying busyness

Chances are if you run into someone on campus then the conversation will go something like this. “Hi, how’s it going?”  “I’m so busy!” “Yep, me too!  It must be that time of the semester.” It doesn’t matter when this conversation occurs because it is always that time of the semester. A study by John Ziker from Boise State University even provides data on how busy we are in higher education. In a blog post, Ziker found that professors at Boise work 61 hours per work and spend 17% of their time in meetings. The curse of knowledge work (which most of us in higher education are engaged in) is that it can largely be done anytime and anywhere. For too many of us that turns into all the time and everywhere.

Photo credit: Peter Kuo

To put it simply, this is not healthy. Not only will our mental and physical health suffer, but no one can engage in their best and most creative work over this amount of time.

I believe the problem isn’t that we have too much work to do. The issue is we don’t control our work. Our calendar and our to do list are tools. They serve us. We don’t serve them.

We know how we should be spending our time and where we should put our emphasis, but too often we let the urgent crowd out the important. Dictated by a Pavlovian response, we constantly check our email, social media, and run from meeting to meeting.

As with all work, it will fill the time given to it. You will be busy, but will you be productive? I suggest not.

There are three strategies that I would recommend to limit how busy you are and refocus on work that matters.

1.  Track your time. Every day for one week, pause every 30 minutes and write down what you’ve done for the last half hour. You will be amazed at the amount of time simply wasted or spend unproductively. When I do this, I am always appalled at how much time I spend on email. I recommit to reducing my email time and it helps tremendously.

2.  Do three important items every day. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but you will be amazed how productive you will feel competing three things related to your important work.

3.  Schedule appointments with yourself. How else will you have the time to complete your three significant items every day? Schedule the appointment and even go somewhere that no one will be able to find you if needed. When someone asks to meet with me, I want to say yes. If I have scheduled a meeting with myself, I can honestly say I have another commitment at that time and offer another time to meet. This will allow you to focus on your important work and not someone else’s priorities for you.