Sonja Langford via Unsplash
Stop for a minute and think of all the people you work with. Who would you say is the busiest?
I bet one person pops into your head immediately. Because every office has that one “busy” person – the person who always has too much to do and makes a big, passive-aggressive production about it. The person who responds to tasks with a resigned sigh but, because they have a lot of institutional knowledge, are respected and even seen as an expert at their job. Which isn’t surprising, since they’ve been doing that same job for years.
So why hasn’t the Busy Bee been promoted? Because being busy is career quicksand. You can work yourself silly, but if it’s not right kind of work, you’ll never get anywhere.
In order to move up, you have to do the kind of work that makes you management material – understanding your industry, effectively prioritizing, creative problem solving, learning to lead a team, and so on. You have to do more than just your core tasks. You have to take on the projects that will help you grow as a professional
But how? You already have a full day of assigned duties and you can’t simply stop doing them, right? Of course not. I’m not suggesting you neglect your work. You have to do your job and do it well. But leaders identify ways to get what they need. If you need more time, you’re going to have to create it.
Waste is a concept I became familiar with during my time in manufacturing. Every process we do is full of waste – actions that take time and energy but don’t create real value. Maybe it’s moving material from place to place. Or sitting idle while you wait for your next task. Or finding a defect and having to scrap your work. Eliminating waste is key to reducing costs, improving quality and decreasing production time.
You probably don’t work in manufacturing but I believe the concept of waste is valuable in any field. If you look closely at your day, you’ll likely see that you expend time and energy on things that aren’t really necessary. If you can reduce or eliminate that waste, you can get more work done in a shorter amount of time and, in essence, create more time.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
Are your tools in the wrong place? The things you use to do your job should be readily accessible, when and where you need them. If you find yourself reaching, stretching and searching for things you need, you’re wasting time and energy.
Are you in the wrong place? If your tasks are repeatedly taking you outside your work area, consider whether your workspace should be closer to the people you support. Think in terms of process flow rather than department or function.
Are you doing more than is necessary? By this I mean adding extra administrative steps for no reason – like printing reference copies of things that are readily accessible online. Save your energy for going above and beyond in ways that actually matter.
Are you reworking things that weren’t done right the first time? Sometimes things come to us broken and we just fix it as part of our process. Taking extra time now to address the problem at its source will save you time over the long term.
Are you inconsistent in your processes? Find the best way to do a repetitive task and stick with it. The speed and accuracy you gain will free up time to do more glamorous work elsewhere.
Each of these individual examples may seem trivial, but considered together, they add up to a significant amount of wasted time – time that you can be using to do the right kind of work for your career.