How to Know If Busywork is Consuming Your Workday — And 5 Ways to Stop

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

Workers spend less than 40% of their workdays performing their actual job responsibilities, a 2016 study found.

At one point, workers often felt like they needed to look busy throughout the day to please their bosses — even if they weren’t actually being productive. But busywork, unfortunately, hasn’t subsided, even as much of the world pivots to a remote work landscape. 

Many managers still want their employees to be kept busy throughout the workday, even when the work they have them perform isn’t necessarily contributing to their bottom line. We still have seemingly pointless meetings, menial tasks like proofreading documents for the zillionth time, creating spreadsheets for already-organized data…and the list goes on.

It’s essentially a form of micromanaging, asking employees to work for the sake of working, rather than actually accomplishing anything of substance.

So, the question remains: How do we stop?

How to know if busywork is consuming your workday

First things first: Do you actually have a case of the busy work?

You very well may if:

  • It’s taking you a long time to accomplish seemingly pointless tasks.
  • While we’re on the subject of pointless tasks, there are a LOT of them on your plate.
  • You’re feeling like a cog. 
  • You feel like your productivity is zapped. 
  • You’re running on autopilot.
  • You can do much of your job while listening to a podcast or watching TV.
  • You don’t feel like you’re actually contributing to your employer’s big-picture goals.
  • You spend a lot of time talking about work (e.g. in meetings) but not much time actually doing it.

5 ways to stop busywork from consuming your workday

1. Set goals.

First, figure out what it is you actually want or need to accomplish. Determine your goals and outcomes. This will help you establish a clearer direction for your workflow and allow you to gain a better understanding of which tasks and responsibilities are actually furthering your goals. 

2. Take stock of your busywork activities.

It’s quite possible that some tasks you deem pointless really are contributing to your goals. So, spend some time reflecting on your workday and categorizing those tasks that actually are busywork, while also identifying the ones that are more productive than you realized.

3. Avoid multitasking.

When you attempt to perform two busywork activities at once — or attempt to combine a rote task with a more important one — rather than reducing the time it will take to accomplish everything, you will only lengthen the timeline. That’s because you’re going to be less productive overall. Avoid multitasking — you’ll be more productive this way.

4. Seek out opportunities for remote work.

There is a considerable body of research showing that remote work leads to greater productivity than in-person work. Perhaps this is partly because employees are spending less time having to appear productive — thus, being performative — and more time actually completing real work. If possible (and if you know you work well from home), try to find opportunities to do your job remotely.

5. Think in terms of value. 

There will always be slow periods. When you don’t have a lot on your plate, rather than twiddling your thumbs or filling up your time with pointless tasks, look for ways you can contribute and add value. Not only will this help you feel more productive and important to your organization, but it will show that you’re a team player, and others will certainly take notice — which could mean great things for your career in the future.

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.

How much time do you think you spend on busywork, and how do you avoid it? This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.