If they’re so busy, why isn’t anything getting done?

| May 17, 2022

This was the cry of a client of mine recently.  He has recently joined a new organisation and his observations of his new team is that their hearts are in the right place but they are just so busy.  All … of … the … time.

Despite the constant state of busy-ness, projects are delayed and over budget and new initiatives or changes can’t be implemented because people don’t have the time. At an individual level, this is like having a super busy week, and collapsing on Friday evening without having actually achieving anything significant. Organisationally, this is like arriving at your quarterly strategy update to find that nothing you said you wanted to do, has been done.

So, what are we busy doing?

  • Daily back-to-back meetings – according to Bartleby’s Law, 80% of meetings are a waste of time for 80% of participants.
  • Constant emails – when a phone call, instant message, or online collaboration tool (Like Trello or Asana) would do the job.
  • Over engineered collaborations – either we are trying to involve too many people or there is a sense of entitlement in the organisation that everyone gets a say.Either way, it slows things down and fills our days with unnecessary activity.
  • Waiting for permission – Bureaucracy, poor delegations of authority or centralised decision making requires overly detailed business cases, volumes of slide decks and excessive meetings.

Chances are, we are also suffering from the planning fallacy.  We underestimate how long things will take to do, so we over commit to the volume of activity we believe we can take on. At best we are wasting time, attention, resources and capability, at worst, we are running our organisation into the ground. My advice?  Stop.  Just stop. Take a breath, a time out, a day with the team, and regroup.

As an individual, you need to review your KPI’s and your core responsibilities and identify the top 3-5 things you need to do daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly to move you towards achieving your most important work. At an organisational level, you need to get back in touch with the organisation strategy, key deliverables and timetable and begin to focus on the critical 3 or 4 things that teams and leaders need to be focused on.

May years ago, my day job was to work with human resources teams to undertake organisational design and workforce planning.  It always started with strategy, then we would look at the work to be done to meet the strategy, then the structure needed to support the work, then the people needed to fit the structure and get the work done.

Anytime things started to go off the rails, I would direct attention back to the strategic plan.

When we are so swamped that we can’t seem to get anything done, we have to stop, and reconnect with our core deliverables, our KPIs and the strategic plan.  And if you don’t have a strategic plan, then stop and make one.