Why competitive busyness is toxic for you and others around you

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I talk a lot about productivity, setting boundaries and managing attention. In the last six months I have seen a huge increase in a sense of competitiveness over how ‘busy’ we all are.

For those that have listened to the productivity episode on the podcast I co-host with Trudy Lewis and Advita Patel, you’ll know that I talk about ‘busy’ being a myth. It’s something I cover in detail in the productivity workshops I run for clients, but let’s just say it’s about priorities, not about being busy.

What I have seen over the last three to six months is a competitive nature coming through in conversations about how busy we are. Our need to be busier than someone else or another team is leading to friction and a lack of respect in the workplace.

What is competitive busyness?

It can happen in groups, teams or across organisations: “I can’t make that meeting I’m too busy this week”, or “They have no idea how busy we are in this team and they keep asking for more.”

It can come from a feeling that you are doing so much more and working so much harder than those around you, leading to feeling angry and irritated by those who you perceive are not working as hard.

Firstly, being busy is not an award you want to win. It’s not something to strive for and being too busy to do anything isn’t good for you or those you work with. It’s why I coach people to focus on the goals for them and the activities that support those.

And secondly, this is all linked to our need to compare ourselves to others. Comparison is the thief of joy and comparing how much you’re doing against someone else doesn’t help you at all. If anything, it can lead to a lot of negative thinking and self-sabotage.

Toxicity in the workplace

This can take many forms. When I talk about chaos in the workplace, there is often some element of it being toxic. The risk of a toxic culture is linked to a lack of innovation, psychological safety and more.

There might be individuals who are very against the direction of travel for the organisation. They can be so against it that they actively sabotage processes and ways of working. Identifying this and talking about it with the leadership team is always needed to find ways forward.

At the moment, some of the behaviours associated with this are being bundled together under a ‘busy’ umbrella.

What can you do?

Here are my five things to do to help you remove the busyness competition:

  1. Open discussion – have conversations about workload and current challenges to getting the work done
  2. Identify boundaries – explore how the individuals and teams have set boundaries with each other
  3. Pinpoint dependencies – encourage conversations about the impact of the ask. How does it alter time, cost or resource?
  4. Support managers – give them the skills to have these (sometimes difficult) conversations with their teams
  5. Call out negative commentary – if people start talking about how they are busier or how another team clearly isn’t busy – lean into it to stop it.

There are lots of things you can do to work on the communication and relationships across teams in your organisation. It’s always worth making time for renewed focus and our Power of Productivity Workshop has been designed to tackle these issues. You can also listen to my podcast episode on staying focused. If you’d like to know more, please email me at info@redefiningcomms.com

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