Why busy doesn’t equal productive (and what the solution is)

Ed Chan

Have you ever been really busy all day, jumping from task to task, barely coming up for air? Yet, at the end of the day, you don’t have much to show for it?

Hopefully that’s not a typical day for you. But for the ‘grinders’ in your team, it’s probably far more common.

Grinders, also known as the ‘doers’, thrive on being busy. Put them in a room with nothing to do and they will find something. Wipe down the table. Open and close the fridge door. Turn on the computer and scroll through different feeds. They like doing things, they don’t like sitting still. But there is a big issue with this:

Being busy is not the same as being productive.

To be productive you need to focus on things that complete tasks. Thinks like following up on a missing piece of information so the last job can be finished and invoiced.

Guess what the grinder will often do instead?

They will start a new job or chase the next interesting task.

Which is why the need direction to keep them focussed on the priorities. Grinders need minders.

To think of it another way, a grinder will be the person cutting a piece of timber with a blunt saw. They work really hard and put in more brute force to overcome the fact that the saw is blunt.

This is when the minder needs to come in and say, “stop for five minutes and sharpen the saw.”

The grinder might respond breathlessly, “I haven’t got time to stop because I’m too busy.” So they’ll put in even more force. They feel valuable when they are too busy, no matter the quality of the outcome.

If you are a manager of grinders—their minder—it is up to you to ensure they remain focussed on being productive, not just being busy. One way to help ensure grinders are focussed on being productive is to conduct a daily huddle.

The daily huddle is essential for providing direction and sharpening the saw. Without leadership from a minder, grinders will just be busy without focussing on the right things. They might feel satisfied with how hard they have worked, even though they could have achieved it much faster if they had stopped for five minutes to sharpen the saw.

You should lead your team of grinders in a daily huddle, and make it a permanent habit. I cannot stress how important daily huddles are.

Great results are the difference between good and poor leaders. You will not only see increases in productivity, but a lift in staff morale and their self-esteem when they begin to better understand the impact of their work and how it contributes to the bigger picture.

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Ed Chan

Founder & Non-Executive Chairman, Chan & Naylor

Ed started Chan & Naylor from a small home office in Sydney and has grown it into a National Financial Services Organisation with offices in most capital cities around Australia, servicing more than 6,000 clients.

In 2018 he co-founded WIZE Mentoring, a network for accountants who want to know how to successfully grow their firm and have it run without them.


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