Are you too busy for your own good?

When was the last time someone asked “how are you?”, and the answer was ‘busy’?  It seems like everyone I talk to is busy.  Being busy is the new normal.

Now I am one of those people who thrives on being busy.  So I wondered about the side effects of busyness.

There’s the usual culprits of lack of sleep and increased stress, while on the positive side busyness is usually associated with getting things done and achievement.

What may surprise you is that busyness can interfere with ethical decision making.  In fact, research shows that when people feel pressed for time they can make decisions that normally they wouldn’t have made.

BusynessIn the early 1970s, John Darley and Daniel Batson (Princeton University) examined how time pressure effects behaviour.

They invited seminary students to participate in a series of experiments.  In one of these experiments the students were told to move from one building to another.  The testers varied the amount of ‘urgency’ in this message.

To move between the buildings the seminary students had to go past a person

What the researchers found is that the more urgency in the message, the less likely it was for the person to stop and offer assistance.   At the same time, for those who didn’t stop many of them appeared agitated when they got to the next building.  This was because they were conflicted in their desire to help and the instructions they were given to get to the new building quickly.

People can fail to see what is going on around them when they are busy and preoccupied with timeliness.

This has interesting implications for change leaders because when you are leading people through change there is no doubt that it is an exceptionally busy time.  Ask yourself:

  • Are you paying attention to what is going on around you?
  • How conscious are you of the decisions you are making? Are they reactive or planned?
  • Are you taking time to reflect on how you and others are coping with the change?
  • How can you best create space in your day so you can take stock?

Taking time out is always hard when you are in the midst of change, but it may well save you time in the long run.  It reminds me of the quote from the famous US basketball coach, John Wooden “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”.

Remember, change happens.  Make it work for you.

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