Saying Goodbye to Busy Work

January 9, 2012

During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, a friend lamented how her boss was making her team come into the office, even though there was little to do. This friend was actually trying to come up with tasks to keep herself busy at work.

We’ve all been there. Who hasn’t found themselves in that situation?

Except while sympathizing with my friend, I realized something big.

It struck me that I no longer do busy work. Ever.

The nonsensical concept of busy work belongs to companies that want the illusion of productivity. When you work for yourself, there’s no room for illusion. No need, no desire. Every single second has to be productive in some way, even if it’s about learning or broadening your network.

When you depend on yourself for income, every minute wasted is a dollar lost. And if you don’t have enough work, you spend your time going after it. You’d simply never do work just to stay busy.

Here’s another reason why “busy work” doesn’t exist in the land of the self-employed: solopreneurs, consultants and freelancers value every minute of down time. (Not that employees don’t, but their employers sometimes don’t.) Every hour spent not working is one less hour invested in our business, so we make the most of our time off. I’d never spend my off time doing work I don’t really have to do (though I spend plenty of my off hours doing work I want to do) because it would steal precious social, family and relaxing hours.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s, for example, was nice and slow, mostly because I didn’t have eight billion emails with tasks attached flooding my inbox. Did I fill the time with busy work? Hell no! I either took time off or used these hours to get ahead on projects I’m excited about, like my upcoming digital course on how to use social media to Make Your Own Luck.

And you know what? Efficient companies don’t want their employees doing busy work, either. One of the best ways to create loyalty among employees — aside from allowing them to produce results they’re proud of — is to give them time off when business is slow. That’s the company’s way of saying, “we value your time as much as ours.” It also means the employees will return the following week refreshed, ready and eager to create something fabulous.

This is exactly why flex-work and working remotely and results-driven work has become so popular. These policies help employees make the most of their time, which in turn helps the company. Results-driven work in particular eliminates the need for busy work.

As more companies adopt results-driven work policies and more of us leave behind employee mindsets to work for ourselves (both trends experts agree are happening right now), I can’t help but wonder: will that mean the end of busy work?

I doubt many of us would complain about that.

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    8 Replies to “Saying Goodbye to Busy Work”

    • I agree that this is one of the best things about being your own boss!

    • Oh how dearly I would love to see the end of busy work! It could happen, and there are probably at least a few progressive startups doing it now.

      As for working for yourself, the flipside is creating busy work without realizing it’s busy work. I know I’ve been guilty of spending far too much time researching a particular thing or perfecting this or that widget on my blog simply because I had no real deadlines. It takes discipline to prioritize and recognize when you don’t need to be doing something. Effective use of time!

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Yes! Several popular bloggers have written about this, about how staying busy is NOT the same as being productive. Tim Ferris even goes so far to say you’re probably being lazy if you’re busy, whether you realize it or not, because you’re not choosing quality priorities. Good point!

    • Andrea says:


      Busy work is an insult to the knowledge worker’s intelligence. If you’re paying people to think, not just punch a time sheet, there’s no shame in admitting that sometimes, business is slow!

    • Srinivas says:

      A while back I wrote a post about why the 8 hour work day doesn’t make any sense. It really came from this idea. I hate busy work, but corporate america is full of people doing busy work. That’s why I say if you have a boss who measures face time don’t walk, RUN out of that job ASAP.

    • True…no busy work here. I never have to come up with something to do. There is plenty that needs to be done. Yet, I still get distracted and can be unproductive and inefficient!? Hate to admit this. But it is a struggle for me. You have mastered the art of self-discipline Alexis. I know you’ve had to to support yourself. So do I, but I still manage to go off on bunny trails with my computer. Efficiency, focus suggestions?

      • Alexis Grant says:

        We all struggle with this! The short story is this: I set goals and stick to them. And of late, I’ve started to compile a team that helps me, so I can continue to grow my business while also having time to write. For blogging, consistency is everything, so I treat my blog as seriously as I would client work, committing to at least three posts a week. Does that help? Let me know if I can answer any more specific questions.

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