Too “busy”?

Don’t tell anyone, especially my boss, but I haven’t worked hard in several years.


That’s not what I meant.

I’ve not been “busy” in several years. And by busy, I mean the rushing between meetings, too hassled to eat lunch, no time to stop for a chat or go for a coffee busy. You know, badge of honour busy.

This is a conscious decision on my part. Mainly as a reaction to the recognition that when I’m under stress my productivity drops to near zero. My job as a programmer / consultant / general techie relies on me being able to use my brain and think clearly. When things stress me out, I lose the ability to do that.

So in order to perform at my best I avoid work stress. So, how do I manage that then?

I don’t work long hours. I do what’s been agreed with my employer and occasionally a bit more if needed or I feel like it. But it’s not typical, nor expected.

I don’t artificially increase my capacity. It’s common to take on extra work and put in the extra hours required to do it. This is a never-ending cycle and sets expectations, which can only ever increase. Accept that your inbox will never be empty. If I get too much to do I let all those asking for things know that something has to give and ask for priorities.

I also hate meetings. A favourite joke of mine is:

Why did the project manager cross the road? – Because Outlook told them too.

I know a lot of people spend most of their time going from one meeting to the next. But what I can’t work out is what a lot of those people actually ‘do’? What do they produce? What happens as a result of them being in those meetings? I seriously think that well over half of office meetings could be cancelled with no effect whatsoever on the company’s bottom line. I’d even go so far as to say that the time not spent in meetings would be far more productive for those concerned.

As with most salaried ‘thought workers’ I enjoy a nice salary, and always make sure my employer is -and feels like- they’re getting value for money when paying that salary. But there isn’t a cut-throat career ladder to climb. There isn’t a bonus or commission scheme. I simply have a job with my employer, or I don’t. I’m not on on piece work or paid per line of code or document written.

So why do 10 hour days, or work weekends?

Many moons ago I was a consultant at one of the ‘Big Four’, and it was fairly common for middle management to pressure the consultants to put in ridiculously long hours and to work most weekends in order to get projects delivered on time. In an open discussion I put it to one of the partners that this was happening and I thought it counter-productive. He agreed as it meant that senior management weren’t getting a true picture of the workload and capacity of their teams. (And I dare say missing an opportunity to add more billable hours to the project)

It was a culture that wasn’t for me, and after several years we amicably parted ways. But whilst there I saw how the culture of over-working and being proud of it was easy to lead people into and impossible for them to get out of. If they ever noticed they were trapped in it.

I love what I do. It’s mentally challenging, fun and of worth to our clients.

But it’s complicated, and impossible to do if you’re “busy”.