Do you suffer for Busy Bee Syndrome? 3 Possible Cures


Peter Drucker, author of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said: “There is nothing so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

On Tuesday, I overheard two people talking on the train.

The first said, ‘You’re right. He’s always in early, and probably still there.’

He meant the office. It was 7.15 pm.

The second agreed, ‘Yeah, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference. He’s working on the same stuff now as he was before Christmas.’

They continued in loud voices. You couldn’t but hear the exchange, which was also interesting.

But both agreed on two points: Their colleague worked hard, harder than most. But he was just going in circles.

The first admitted that he was very effective, but then added, ‘in a very small circle.’

I think I know what they meant. I’ve seen it in myself.

You spend a staggering amount of time on certain activities, usually the ones you like, but overlook areas where you could – and should – have more impact.

Writing is a good example. I can spend hours polishing text, missing the bigger picture.

But why?

I think it’s laziness.

I’ve never known any one who admits to being lazy.

Being busy, even the wrong kind of busy, is fine.

It reminds me of an IT boss I once had.

Busy, busy,’ he would say, marching around the office floors. ‘They’re watching, you know.’

He wasn’t paranoid. Rather he believed that his line managers noticed this. I doubt it. But maybe his right.

Or maybe the problem is our definition of busy.

What does busy mean to you?

Stressed out? Moving forward?

Jane Friedman reminds us that “by definition, “busy” can be a verb or an adjective. It can be synonymous with occupied, involved, engaged, and concerned.”

She adds that, “But it can also denote preoccupied, distracted, diverted, overblown, overwrought, overdone, and fussy.

If our busyness were more positive—being involved and engaged—our response would be specific about the great stuff we are absorbed in. But it’s not, because we are too busy to even get that specific.”

Her suggestion to fix this?

  1. Take a moment.
  2. Write down specifically what kept you “busy” today.
  3. Determine which definition of “busy” it falls under.”

I wrote this angle down from Ali Davies on my notepad.

“Those people who are most successful are productive more than busy.”

For me, it’s a reminder to do what needs to be done, then move on. Not everyone cares, or knows, if you split an infinitive. But they do know when the report is late.

Over to you.

So, how do you know when you’re being busy with the wrong thing?

What’s the warning sign?

What’s the one thing you try to change?

PS – Have you seen this? HBR’s 10 Must Reads Boxed Set