One of the corporate world’s worst phrases ever has to be “do more with less.”
It’s a bit like being asked to “give 110% effort.” The legitimacy of each claim is difficult to comprehend, let alone accomplish.
When we are asked to “do more with less” and “give 110% effort,” the reality of the situation is we try to cram more into an already overburdened calendar. Not only is your diary overflowing with what seems like an infinite number of meetings—not only do we have more tasks to complete to assuage the “do more with less” mission—we have lost control of how we are spending our time.
Take for example a study from the University of Lancaster.
Researchers discovered that we are now spending five hours a day on our mobile phones. Why? In an “always on” corporate culture to accommodate a “do more with less” culture, we believe we have to work at all times of the day, often on mobile phones answering emails, texts, and other encroachments on our time. DMR, for example, reports that the average office worker now receives 121 emails per day. Another study by Asurion indicated that Americans check their phone on average once every 12 minutes or over 80 times a day.
The consequences to such behavior are beginning to pile up. Our wellness is near the top of the list.
ComPsych Corporation is the world’s largest provider of employee assistance programs. According to its 2017 StressPulseSM survey, almost 60% of employees report being in the high-stress category. Workload—and thus being constantly busy—is one of the largest culprits to high stress. The organization also revealed that 41% of people lost 15-30 minutes per day in productivity due to stress while another 36% lost one hour or more per day.
The age of freneticism—being always on and busy—is affecting sedentary levels, too. We are staring at screens on our desk or in our palms far too much, and not moving. We’ve become statues. In fact, being sedentary (or statues) is shortening our lifespans.
At Columbia University, researchers analyzed nearly 8,000 employees over a four-year period. All of the workers were over the age of 45 and based in the U.S. The results were chilling: 345 people died across the span of the research, but they also found that people who were sedentary for more than 13 hours a day were twice as likely to die prematurely as workers who sat at their desk 11.5 hours each day. The researchers state that the number of hours employees are sedentary each day is 12.3. (That’s more than half our non-sleeping, supposedly active day.)
The researchers wrote: “Both the total volume of sedentary time and its accrual in prolonged, uninterrupted bouts are associated with all-cause mortality, suggesting that physical activity guidelines should target reducing and interrupting sedentary time to reduce the risk for death.”
Further compounding the busyness crisis is how it affects our levels of creativity. Being overly busy distresses our ability to be creative including a critical factor; mind wandering. Good thinking needs creativity. If we are excessively busy, there is no opportunity for our mind to wander or daydream. Consequently, the ideas dry up or they do not surface at all.
The busyness crisis forces our brains into a different way of behaving. Most notably we believe multitasking is the way in which to dig us out of the being overly busy hole. The short answer is that it doesn’t work. A 2015 study with judges from Milan covering nearly 60,000 cases, for example, found that those who took on more than one case at a time ended up taking longer than if they focused on one. On the topic of multitasking author, Kimberly Himes writes, “research suggests that ‘multitasking, which many have embraced as the key to success, is instead a formula for shoddy work, mismanaged time, rote solutions, stress, and forgetfulness.’”
Disruptions and interruptions further impact our thinking and productivity. When we get disrupted from our work—when a colleague interrupts us with an email or text, and we do not possess the wherewithal to ignore it—another example of distractedness lurks.
Microsoft looked into the matter, not regarding society but their employees. The company discovered that it took their workers an average of 15 minutes to return to what they were initially working on each time an interruption or disruption occurred. What’s worse is that those 15 minutes were spent on activities other than their original work, such as social media and browsing the web for fun.
Perhaps this is why Microsoft released an update to its Windows 10 operating system earlier in 2018. In it was a feature called the “Focus Assist” which enables employees to temporarily switch off their social media notifications and email notices such that they can remain focused on whatever it is they are working on and not get distracted.
What can we do?
I call it Open Thinking, the return to a balanced archetype of reflection and action; the poised intertwining of Creative, Critical and Applied Thinking.
Full details are found in my new book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, set to publish on September 11.
The age of freneticism is frightening. Good thinking has lapsed, productivity is waning, and health and wellness issues abound.
It is time to rethink how busy we have become. It is time to rethink our thinking.
While you’re here, why not watch the TED Talk?