Busyness is Bad for Safety
By Eduardo Lan
In my work as a safety culture and leadership consultant with Propulo Consulting, I often hear clients complain about how busy people are with meetings and paperwork and how little time they have for other things, such as getting out in the field.
In this complex and fast-paced world of ours, it is normal to feel like this. At times, it seems like the number of emails, meetings, deadlines, and projects people are responsible for is never-ending. Dealing with it is a fact of life. However, there are things we can do to prioritize and act on what is important, instead of allowing the daily whirlwind to swallow up all our time.
Not everything in our schedule is as important as we think
According to a survey conducted on 182 senior managers in a range of industries, 71% said meetings were unproductive and inefficient (Noonan Hadley & Eun, 2017). Additionally, it is estimated that the average professional spends 28% of their workday reading and answering emails (Knight et al., 2020).
Work life is full of demands, but sometimes we get busy with the wrong things. We have become accustomed to being busy and have stopped analyzing how to best use our time. When we spend the bulk of our time rushing from meeting to meeting and from task to task, we fail to do the critical work of thinking, connecting, and leading.
Busyness negatively impacts your safety leadership
Busyness can make us feel productive, but it is bad for safety leadership. Oftentimes, we are so busy that we stop being available for people, which negatively impacts our ability to connect with them. When this happens, we become distant, focusing more on tasks to the detriment of people.
So what is one to do?
Eliminate the unimportant
Have you noticed that the number of meetings, tasks, and emails you have is never-ending and that no matter how many you complete they just keep coming? Just as a gas will fill up any space in which it is released, so will tasks fill up our calendar and keep us busy. Thus, it is essential—if we are to have a real impact—that we discern what adds value from what doesn’t, eliminating or moving those elements that don’t serve us, our team, or our company. Effective time management is as much about what not to do as it is about what to do.
Focus on the important
Once we have made some room in our calendar, we must define, identify, and schedule the big rocks. Otherwise, we will always postpone that which is important but not urgent, such as spending time in the field, connecting with people, and analyzing and making decisions based on key data and insights. As Stephen R. Covey once said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
Execute the important with presence
Consider this: busyness is not just about the things you do, but about how you do them. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, yet many of us go around dealing with the stuff in our lives in a hurried fashion. To avoid this, focus not only on what is important, but on executing the important with presence. Being present means that your attention is fully on the person in front of you and the matter at hand, instead of thinking about your next task.
Connect often with people
Our main task as leaders is to lead people, communicating our organizational vision and values, modeling desired behavior, and supporting them to get the job done. The best way to do this is to connect with them. This means being out in the field talking to people, setting expectations, getting insights, and following up on the agreements and improvements made.
Help others focus on what is important
Once we are personally able to effectively deal with the whirlwind of work while prioritizing and executing the big rocks, we need to help others do the same. Many of the things people are dealing with we have assigned to them. Look at those things from time to time to determine what you can and should take off their plates and help them refocus their attention on what really matters.
Kim, L. (2015, July 15). Multitasking is killing your brain. Inc.com. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://www.inc.com/larry-kim/why-multi-tasking-is-killing-your-brain.html
Knight, R., Friedman, R., & Webb, C. (2020, October 29). How to spend way less time on email every day. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://hbr.org/2019/01/how-to-spend-way-less-time-on-email-every-day
Noonan Hadley, C., & Eun, E. (2017, June 26). Stop the meeting madness. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://hbr.org/2017/07/stop-the-meeting-madness
At Propulo, we work with leaders to improve operational performance through elevating safety communication and safety culture.