It’s a common feature of my conversations within a whole range of Organisations that people are busy: in fact, it’s consistently the #1 thing that people say that they need more of in order to learn, or to effect change.
Which is unfortunate, because economists will tell us that time is one of the most precious commodities that we have: a spectacularly valuable resource that cannot be minted afresh. Nor can it be traded directly, although, with enough money, it is possible to outsource tasks (such as washing your car) to free some up.
Time will never be digitised, nor can it directly be stolen or gifted, although it can most certainly be used up.
We all have 24 hours in a day, and that is that.
But how do we end up so busy? Can there possibly be that much work to do?
If we started out with a blank sheet of paper, and decided to build an Organisation from scratch, we would write down lots of desirable traits, sketch out a structure, and maybe start to design some tasks.
But none of us, sat in that coffee shop, poring over a sheet of paper, would say “I know – let’s make people so crazily busy that they don’t have time to learn, rehearse, think or act well”. None of us would say that because it’s a crazy idea.
And yet that is what we have.
Organisations not simply too busy to change, but too busy, often, to even think about change.
So how do we end up so busy?
I suspect the answer is because we have created systems that generate busyness: we have created systems within which it is not only acceptable, but expected, to be busy, and we fail to deconstruct them (perhaps because we lack the time).
We have engineered our own constraint, which is a common feature of the legacy Organisation. We engineer ourselves to a standstill, then lament the lack of motion.
Our challenge may not be to come up with a global cleaning programme: a central initiative for simplification – but rather to create the tools and permissions for people to free up time. Which may start with the curiosity to question.
Much of our Organisations structure, the systems and processes, rules and controls, are there for a good reason – but we can easily forget that the systems in and of themselves are not the reason – they are the symptom.
A clear focus on output, on productivity, on effectiveness, and a clear remit to simplify, alongside tools to try it and share it.
Local simplification is of little use unless tied into global narratives, not least because we can end up shifting the challenge of time up, or down, the line.
Certainly a culture that questions busy behaviour, as opposed to simply accepting it, would be a start.
We simply cannot be that busy: it seems unbelievable that tens of thousands of people can all be doing important stuff all at the same time – and all without the time to think about how things could be different.
Not less effective, not less good, not less precise. But less busy.