The Culture of Busyness

I am excited to introduce Time to Win’s first guest author, Emily Dillinger! Emily began her career at Good Karma Brands as an Executive Assistant and has since held many roles and worn many hats, most recently as Executive Vice President.

She writes about the “Culture of Busyness” and the effect it can have on a teammate and their work.

I believe we need to retire the term “Busy.” A professional who is consistently too busy to eat lunch, consistently too busy to look at emails until late at night, or perpetually too busy to take on a project is someone who needs help managing their time, workload or attitude.

For the most part, I’ve grown up in Good Karma Brands. My first full-time role after college was as an Executive Assistant to the usual author of this series, Sam Pines, along with fellow Sr. VP and ESPN Chicago Market Manager, Keith Williams. Sam and I used to laugh about how relative feeling “busy” is. In the course of us working together, we together amassed more and more responsibilities each year (ok, maybe mine was more dramatic, as he was the one who was running a market!). Often we would say, “remember last year when you were only doing X, and you thought you were busy?” Of course, some of that increased efficiency comes from simply getting better, more comfortable and confident in your role. But busyness is a mindset, and a mindset that can quickly take you off-course or “below the line” into a victim mindset if you’re not careful.

There is a common misconception that in order to be seen as productive, we need to show – or tell – others that we are busy. It comes in the form of talking about your inbox number as a badge of honor, or the amount of meetings you have stacked up in a day. And rather than it accomplishing what you think it does, it becomes a poor reflection on you as a leader or professional, and could deter others from wanting to bring you new ideas, concerns or feedback to you. Or, you could be inadvertently making others feel inadequate – as though they are not meeting expectations based on someone else’s busyness.

At GKB, a key question we ask teammates comes from Gallup: “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” If you, or a person you manage, is too busy to do what you do best every day – then that is a key part of performance management that isn’t being achieved, and we need to solve for it. 

If busyness is a real productivity problem, what can you as a leader do to solve for it?

First, hear it as a cry for help – and most importantly, ask great questions and listen. As a leader, you need to understand their workload, priorities, and skillset. What is taking up their time? Do you agree on the time spent on various projects? What gets them off course? What do they enjoy doing, and wish they could do more? What is the cadence, or rhythm of their day, week, month? If they could engineer it, how would they want that rhythm to work? Has the workload increased beyond should be expected for that person to handle? If so, gather the data to make the busyness a fact and not a story or a mindset, in order to solve for it.

Your role as a manager and leader is to help your team be the best version of themselves – and taking action to fight against a culture of busyness and towards a culture of healthy productivity is one of the best ways we can win.

Thanks, Sam Pines, for allowing me a guest author spot in Time to Win!

-Emily Dillinger