Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.
Reader Rachel asked me, “What are your thoughts on ‘busy work’? For some whose jobs are based more on time than production, it’s easy to get caught up doing some busy work to justify one’s existence.”
Rachel and I traded a few more emails, and I realized that there are actually two types of busy work: that which we engage in when our time is our own, and that we engage in to fill working hours owed to someone else.
What Is Busy Work?
Busy work can be defined as anything that keeps you occupied for a time without really producing anything of use.
Examples of busy work: from school, sheets of paper to be filled out with facts already learned; at home, clipping coupons and filing them although you will never touch them again; and at work, things that will contribute nothing to the business function but are given out so that people are not idle.
Busy work definitions can change from person to person, though. My husband sees my knitting as busy work (“you could just BUY a sweater”) while I see it as a relaxing hobby.
Busy Work On Your Own Time
It’s always been my thought that I should never engage in busy work when I am on my own time. If a task really is not producing anything of use, I would be better off putting my time and effort into doing something else.
That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes engage in busy work, just as a form of procrastination, but that’s a subject for another article.
Busy Work At Work?
But what happens when the time is not your own? Most of us work for employers who require us to be present for a certain number of hours, and expect results for those hours. If there isn’t enough work to do, or you are very efficient, you may be assigned busy work to fill the time.
This doesn’t have to be bad, though. If you can find a way to keep busy without resorting to something meaningless, you can turn this time to your advantage.
Here are some methods I have used to get through idle times at work before:
Turning Busy Work To Your Advantage
If at all possible, don’t let someone else come up with something for you to do. This will probably result in meaningless work as they hurry you on your way. Instead, fill your time with something that benefits you and the company, and let your boss know about all the benefits!
Learning new skills
Our employers like us to learn knew skills. However, I have only heard of mythical companies that actually grant time to learn those skills. If you have some downtime, pick something that will benefit your job as well as yourself.
Here are some specifics: take a software package somewhere you’ve never had it before; read the management book your boss has on his desk; or catch up on trade news.
Analysis, unless it is your primary job responsibility, often gets shuffled under the daily tasks. Everyone can do analysis in their jobs, ranging from process improvement to work flow design.
Pick something that you think could work better and work to improve it. If at all possible, implement it, or make a good case to your boss why it should be implemented.
When things are busy, it’s hard to stay organized. Take some time and clean out the files (desk and computer). Rearrange things so you can find them faster. Pull together notes from various sources into one place.
Chipping Away at the “If I Had Time…” List
If you don’t have one of these lists, start one. My list is a running list that I make a note of things I need to look at more closely.
If I see some code that is particularly snarled but it’s not relevant to what I am fixing, I make a note of it and clean it up later. It’s kind of like an on-going brain dump so that I can be more proactive about problems.
Start Your “What I Did This Year” List
Annual reviews can be a headache if you don’t recollect what you did. Start a list of the major things you accomplished; and don’t forget to put any of the above projects on your list!
We can turn meaningless work into useful tasks if we choose the tasks. The next time you have a slow period at work, think about what you can do that benefits both yourself and your employer.
Photo by fsse8info