Activity is not the same as productivity. However, in many organizations and for many leaders this is a commonly held misconception. Increasingly, organizations and leaders are focused solely on “getting things done”, without consideration for how that activity is building the future of the organization. Essentially, we are busy for the sake of being busy.

It is easy for leaders to get caught up in the frantic pursuit of activity. We begin by reacting in the moment, taking on tasks without considering if it is important and if it furthers the goals of the organization. Next thing we know we are sitting in meetings all day, writing and responding to hundreds of emails, and staying late everyday. Ultimately, leaders are distracted and end up devoting time and energy to activities that are unproductive.

Unfortunately, when a leader is engaged in this type of busyness employees often feel pressure to follow suit. Subsequently, the organizational culture becomes one in which people are drifting from activity to activity, without any thought as to how those activities contribute to the vision of the organization.

Such busyness has unintended consequences for leadership and for organizations. Activity does not necessarily yield productivity, and thus it does not generate positive results. Additionally, it stifles creativity. If you, as a leader, and your team are focused on ticking off items on a never ending to-do list there will be no time or energy for the pursuit of ingenuity and excellence.

While these are serious consequences perhaps most important is the inability to reflect on our decisions and actions. A chronic state of busyness results in a reactionary state, one in which leaders do not have the ability to reflect on their responses to changes in the workplace, to learn from their actions and to grow as a leader, or to initiate innovative ways of working.

Although this is a mindset that is easy to fall into, particularly given our society’s tendency towards busyness, there are ways to break the cycle. As a leader, you need to work smarter, not harder. You also need to demonstrate results through strategic thinking. Prior to jumping into a task or activity, or when evaluating current activities, ask yourself these two questions;

Why are we doing this?
How will this make a difference to the organization?

These questions will enable you to reflect on the reasons behind the activities and the importance of these reasons to the goals and vision of the organization. Empower your team to ask these questions on a daily basis. Simply put, if you are not able to answer either of these questions then take the item off your to-do list. Your time and energy, and that of the team, should be devoted to activities that will make a positive impact towards the future of the organization.