Busy != Productive

Mar 22nd, 2007 by Meri in Management, Productivity

The people I really respect are those who can get mountains of work done and deliver amazing results … and still have a life.

It’s really easy to mistake “busyness” for productivity. The folks always rushing around, having meetings and complaining about how busy they are certainly LOOK like they’re doing a lot. But the reality is that effort and output are not always related. Productivity is about getting loads done — how you spend your time should be up to you.

Some busy people are also productive; some productive people are also busy. There are times when you’ll see me running around like a maniac, juggling half a dozen projects and priorities. But if you measure (and therefore reward) “busyness” as opposed to results, then you won’t get what you want. You’ll get an army of employees who are too busy to talk to each other and potentially on the verge of nervous breakdowns, who actually don’t achieve very much.

Measure results. Measure the outcomes, not the actions. Don’t reward someone for working night-and-day on a task, reward them for producing the deliverable at the end. Reward the person who gets the same work done in less time MORE than the person who is missioning for days and days. That way, you’ll encourage your team to be more productive, rather than just busier. They’ll find their own ways to improve the way they work and the entire team will benefit as a result.

6 Comments

  • You’re absolutely right. I think a lot of this has to do with outward appearances — people who have a need to look busy and important instead of focusing purely on delivery quality and amount.

    FWIW, “busyness” is a word without the hyphen.

  • Thanks for the FYI on the spelling — duly updated đŸ™‚

  • Also, before taking rewards away from team members, who work late to deliver on time, have a think on whether they work late because they’re not productive or because they are determined to deliver on time.

    I’ve seen managers blame people for working late to deliver on time, and the real cause of people having to work late, was because of the very same manager not having the needed skills to actually have a management position, thus creating unneeded delays and overtime for several teams.

    Let’s just say that dedicated professionals who work late, for free, don’t stay in a company that chastises them for trying to make up for poor management.

  • Morgan — good point. To be clear, I NEVER meant to say that those who work late to deliver shouldn’t be rewarded. More that the reward should be for the results … not the activity. If you reward people staying late (in and of itself), then you end up with the feeling that you have to stay late, whether you have work to do or not…

    I agree completely that bad management can force folks into HAVING to work late to make it all happen at the last minute and would never recommend people be punished for that!

  • […] Geek manager: Busy != ProductiveSo true. I’m reminded of my student jobs in the fish processing factories of Grimsby, where this kind of bollocks work ethic was rampant. Looking busy was much more important than actually doing anything useful, which is why if we finished all of our tasks half an hour early, we were encouraged to engage in brainless busywork such as re-sweeping the same patch of floor over and over again until the shift was up. I still get annoyed thinking about this. Why didn’t we just go home? Being busy is NOT an end in itself.[Tags: projectmanagement softwaredevelopment workblog ] […]

  • […] Meri William over at Geek | Manager blogs about the common myth that business equals productivity: It’s really easy to mistake “busyness” for productivity. The folks always rushing around, having meetings and complaining about how busy they are certainly LOOK like they’re doing a lot. But the reality is that effort and output are not always related. Productivity is about getting loads done — how you spend your time should be up to you. […]