Barry Marlow explores the learned helplessness of being too busy to do anything but be very busy, and offers some simple solutions to thinking and behaving differently to become more effective.
Are you busy? Of course you are. But busy doing what, exactly?
You probably dare not answer otherwise. And you’ll certainly be well practised in telling people just how busy you are.
Smart Simplicity always asks people how things are. ‘Busy’ is the usual reply.
Taking as inspiration, Tony Crabbe’s excellent book ‘Busy – how to thrive in a world of too much’, we have looked at the world of ‘housingbusy’ and summarised it in a typical Smart Simplicity way. Here’s what we make of it – and describes what we think B.U.S.Y. stands for:
B – Business or Busy-ness
What exactly are you doing?
We challenge organisations and people to look objectively at what they are doing. That’s not as easy as it might sound. We examine the behaviours, process, the routine and the meaning. We are constantly surprised at the degree of process that has little or no impact on the actual business value or the customer despite being, allegedly, customer focused.
Tony Crabbe likens busy-ness to an addiction, trying to overcome something that has been embedded and then adding to it, squeezing time and energy. Process and habit are close relatives of one another. The brain is not built for constant busy-ness. And yet, people bog themselves down with busy procedures, despite knowing that much of it is ineffectual on the customer and frustrating for themselves.
It is the ‘business’ that suffers through busy-ness. People are not performing at their best. Little time to think and plan and assess. Constant pressure to achieve uncertain outcomes at the risk of poor performance.
Doing less, however, is riddled with guilt. But in our world of such busy-ness where do we find the time to think, create and improve?
Perhaps the answer lies in neither more, nor less. But different. Smart Simplicity offers difference, not more work.
U – Understanding the nature of Busy
How do you know how busy you are?
This simply means recognising when things get on top of you, the stress and frustration at what and how you work. This is the work of Smart Simplicity – analysing and critically evaluating the nature and direction of the work rather than the person trying to cope with it. Actual value being added, rather than the amount of sweat being generated.
Is the process actually worth it? Is the audience different to what it used to be? Are expectations changing quicker than the ways the business can adapt?
People are often too close to notice. But the irony is that they are responsible to notice, especially if customers are not responding or engaging. Much of our work is about developing better co-operative relationships. But these relationships don’t mean more work, more hours and more process.
We argue for different approaches. Examining what is done, researching its value and suggesting that there might be other ways to get better results. As Tony Crabbe says “If you want to do something fresh, if you have turned off your autopilot, there is no map, you just have your values as a compass”.
S – Sustainable
You can’t do it alone.
At Smart Simplicity we talk a lot about co-operation and integrators. In particular, we explore the importance of sustainable relationships (ones that maximise trust and creativity that feed into better, value for money services) and sustainable business that is profitable both for the business and the people that deliver the service. Yes, that word is ‘profitable’. Too much busy-ness is a waste of valuable resources. In fact, busy-ness is a constraint.
But busy is also about the energy needed to continue being busy with little meaning. In one organisation we visited, half the income team spent 40% of its time making hopeful telephone calls to prospective customers. The success rate was poor. They’re not employed for that. An App and an algorithm can achieve much higher levels of success on the telephone, simply because they are better at it than we are.
Those staff members were burned out. But not through doing what they were employed for. They are good at other things. But they had little time to do them or to co-operate with colleagues in meaningful ways.
The people went home exhausted. They had achieved very little positive contact. But they could always justify how very, very busy they were.
Y – You
How brave are you?
Tony Crabbe talks about self-efficacy - the belief we have in our ability to do things. Self-efficacy increases our likelihood of doing new things – different or difficult things.
Trouble is – it’s pretty darned hard believing this in a silo, where the world is both wonderfully myopic and insulated against the reality of co-operation.
Smart Simplicity advised an organisation that dropped all traditional rent arrears letters – the series of correspondence relied upon to ask for rent payment. With a Smart Simplicity approach they worked out that their impact was minimal. The cost was high. People were busy. Not value for money. Difficult decision. They had been running that process for over 30 years.
It took someone with a degree of bravery and self-efficacy to make that decision – by removing the silo and empowering people that were natural integrators. It made common sense. Traditional silo thinking replaced with something different. True Transformation. You can do that.
Think about the things YOU do. Sign-ups? No-one likes them, no-one benefits from them. And yet they still take place. Why? Process? Addiction? Habit? Plenty of people are very busy doing them. Allocations, arrears chasing, void management, trying to solve tenancy issues the same way. A familiar list of busy activity.
Smart Simplicity believes that ideas and innovation in housing isn’t the problem. The biggest problem is letting go of the processes that have only heritage value and have become habitual rather than meaningful. There is less and less space to breathe when new ideas are developed. It’s all too busy.
So there we are. There YOU are. Because at the end of the day, when you’re back home with your glass of wine and feet in salted water watching Emmerdale, you’ll know you’ve had another busy day. Don’t worry. You’ll be just as busy tomorrow.
B.U.S.Y. Would you like Smart Simplicity to spell it out for you?
The Smart Simplicity Less Busy and more effective questions:
Acknowledgement: ‘Busy’ by Tony Crabbe.
Published by Piatkus. ISBN 978-0-349-40075-4