- Too much busy work can give employees work-related stress to near burnout, which can cost businesses close to $150 billion in annual revenue due to poor productivity.
- When employees are involved in too much busy work, they are distracted from the core value of the business.
- Companies with less busy work tend to provide a better customer experience.
No one enjoys busy work, and it makes employees feel unimportant. Businesses should make the most of their resources and ensure workers are doing tasks that help the company's end goals.
"Busy work is defined as tasks that team members do that do not bring immediate value to the company," said Bill Chase, senior vice president of marketing at DentalPlans.com. "There are, however, certain tasks that may seem like busy work, such as data entry, that actually provide great value to the business."
Here are four ways you can identify busy work and reduce it in your day-to-day operations.
1. Leave the 'busy' mentality behind.
People love talking about their busy schedules, but that's not always something to boast about.
"I believe busy work is the product of a dated culture that based performance on how much time you spent at work rather than the quality of that work," said Shane Green, president of SGEi. "Whenever I talk to managers who are working more than 12 hours a day, I always ask why. When you dig into their schedule and work, you will often find busy work at play."
Instead of asking yourself if you're busy (because the answer will always be yes), ask what you're busy with. If you're busy with work that isn't helping your bottom line, that's busy work. [Read related article: Easy Ways to Boost Your Productivity]
2. Make sure everyone is on the same page.
For your team to be as efficient as possible, everyone needs to be on the same page with company goals.
"Being results-focused and paying close attention to the organization of work are both key factors," Chase said. "Clearly defined goals make it much easier for team members to focus on what's really important and determine which tasks don't work toward the defined goals."
Chase has weekly team meetings to review to-do lists so that work isn't being duplicated and each team is working toward a goal.
3. Write down your responsibilities and review tasks.
Once you've determined the goals, write down your responsibilities and review each task. Green recommends that you place each task into one of the following categories, then delegate it, dump it, do it or delay it.
- Delegate it: If a task is necessary but isn't a good use of your time, delegate it.
- Dump it: "If this task does not make a difference or someone else would not notice if it did not get done, then dump it," Green added. "It is a great exercise every six months to challenge whether tasks, reports or processes are still necessary, especially as new technology or software becomes available."
- Do it: Complete tasks that are valuable to your company's bottom line.
- Delay it: "This is a task that will need to get done, but it is not urgent and can be completed when time permits," said Green.
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4. Use software to track projects.
While leaders of a company should try to eliminate busy work, some work that seems like busy work is unavoidable. Managers should distribute this work evenly among employees so no one feels underappreciated.
"We use Jira to streamline our marketing, creative, development and even some customer service tasks," Chase told Business News Daily. "This program allows us to see who has what projects assigned to them, and we can easily reassign [projects] to a different person or adjust deadlines as needed."
Project management software, such as Basecamp and Trello, allows managers to see what projects employees are working on and if a certain employee is working on too many projects. If you're interested in online project management software, read this Business News Daily guide.
Examples of busy work
Bike shedding refers to putting a lot more focus on low-value tasks while putting aside tasks that require your immediate focus. A company CEO may focus on buying small businesses that look interesting while his business is having challenges with cash reserves or has a failing business model. While he may appear to be doing a lot for the company, he fails to focus on his core mandate.
It is the norm in some companies that employees can't leave work before their bosses. Employees engage in any form of activity to look busy as they wait for their managers to leave. The organization may incur unnecessary expenses in terms of wasted resources.
An organization or department may expand its mission in areas of unquestionable value. A police department, for example, may focus on aggressive digital surveillance when they have not been assigned this mandate by the city government.
Tips on how to avoid busy work
- Focus on key objectives and results. It is essential for all employees to have well-defined key objectives and goals. They should then align all their actions toward achieving their objectives.
- Tackle your biggest challenge first. Focus on the biggest challenge first to avoid putting all your effort into the minor tasks.
- Take some time off and refocus. Participating in too many activities may drain your energy and make you less productive. It is crucial to take some time away your desk and relax. Use this time to identify what you want to achieve with the time left.
- Write out your daily or weekly action plan. Start every workday with your to-do list for the day. This list should only include items within your core mandate for the organization. It would be beneficial to prepare this list at least a day in advance or very early in the morning.