Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Adding Value vs. Looking Busy

New York City
Image by kaysha via Flickr
When I graduated high school I moved to New York City to go to college.

I bid my parents a fond farewell as they dropped me off at the dorm. Dad idled the car as Mom turned around and handed me a $20 and said, "Good luck."

Looking at this it sounds harsh. But those were different times; in my family it was the tradition to make your own way in the world. Including the girls.

So it was with some pride that I took that $20 to the bank, then set off to find work with which to add money to it. After landing a few menial jobs I realized that office work paid about three times as much AND I didn't have to stand on my feet all day long.

Fast forward to the temporary jobs I held in those early college years. None of them were difficult, except that the computers seemed to keep changing - I went from the early Mac, to WordPerfect and its function keys, then Microsoft Word. That was fine; I could learn.

The boredom factor was simple too. There was no Internet but I could read, talk on the phone, do a crossword puzzle, or what have you to prevent my brains from frying.

What was more challenging for me was giving the impression of being busy when I was bored. Because inevitably the boss would stride by every now and again, and if you didn't look incredibly freaking busy all the time they would give you a glare.

It is hard to believe that it is nearly 25 years since I graduated from high school. But things haven't changed very much since then. We make the same mistake, confusing busy-ness for productivity. And they are not at all the same.

We probably have the technology right now to automate most of the jobs people do. And we also know that in a knowledge and/or relationship economy people have "spurts" of energy, and in between they require downtime so as to recharge and be more effective.

Just like exercise works best when you do interval training, alternating fast and slow, so does work. It's not only OK but probably more productive to work this way.

The question is how do we change our organizational structures to accommodate reality? The reality of how people work, and the reality of what the economy demands - because the days when we all had to stand behind machines for 12 hours a day, or farm from dawn till nighttime, are long since gone.

Mostly I think it is fear - that we will be seen as irrelevant if we are not killing ourselves every second. But if we can overcome that fear I think we will be a happier society. Spend more time together watching TV, or taking a walk outside, or just hanging out doing nothing. And the rest of the time achieving something financially meaningful.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

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