Since then, not much has changed. We still make a big deal about being busy, and some of us celebrate it like it is an achievement of some kind. And to a degree, I understand why. As Australia’s economy is transitioning away from mining-led growth toward a new, more broad-based model – with all the pressure and anxiety that traditionally accompany change – we are more receptive to stress and often fall back on the humble busyness brag as a coping mechanism.
Even science has confirmed that it’s only human to succumb to the temptation of staying busy – even when it is counterproductive. “People have an aversion to idleness,” explain Francesca Gino of the Harvard Business School and Bradley Staats of the University of North Carolina.
“We have friends who will, by choice, drive miles out of their way to avoid waiting for a few minutes in traffic, even if the detour means the overall journey takes more time. Research suggests that the same applies to work, where many of the things we choose to do are merely justifications to keep ourselves busy.”
The good thing is that science doesn’t just confirm busyness is self-imposed and driven by our own, inherent bias toward action, it also has a solution for how to break the cycle. To “translate predisposition into productivity,” Gino and Staats recommend not to descend into busy mode without planning. “The action bias is usually an emotional reaction to the sense that you should do something, even if you don’t know what to do. By contrast, hanging back, observing, and exploring a situation is often the better choice.”
Debriefing, they add, is equally as important as preparation. “Reflection…makes us more aware of where we are, gives us information about our progress, and lends us the confidence we need to accomplish more.”
Interestingly, the duo cite a study of professional soccer goalies and the best strategies to stop the opponent from scoring on a penalty kick. Apparently goalies often decide to jump to the right or the left without waiting and watching where the opponent is kicking the ball – even though science found the most successful ones stay in the centre. “Learning to stay in the centre…
Involves stepping back, allocating time to just think, and only then taking action,” they summarise. “Through reflection, we can better understand the actions we are considering and ensure they are the ones that will make us productive.”