It’s probably uncontroversial to say that busywork is detestable. By busywork, I mean work that keeps me busy, but won’t move things forward. A few examples: sitting in a meeting without contributing, obviously superflous; starting something without learning from or finishing it; producing something that is never needed.
As a recent second-time father, I have to up my productivity game — again. One of the keys for me is to weed out busywork, so that only productive work remains. Doing that, I realized that I’m probably not the only one at interfacewerk who’s sometimes busy with busywork. Since I’m deciding about a decent amount of my teams work, I’m now trying to come up with some guidelines to find which activities are busywork and which aren’t. Here’s what I came up with:
It’s unclear, what goals is being furthered by the activity. If that’s the case, the activity should be examined and it should be clarified what goal this activity is moving us towards. Hint: “to keep things running“ is insufficient, there has to be a higher goal.
The activity has skipped one or two necessary steps. If there is research needed to figure out if the activity is worthwhile, do the research first. This pattern is common in software development, and I call it “premature implementation” there.
The activity takes more investment that it’s worth. A common pattern in administrative or strategic work, where the investment isn’t easy to keep track of. Basically, each hour spent has a cost (and additionally, an opportunity cost), and this investment has to produce an outcome that’s higher in value (in the long term).
The activity involves more people than necessary. Oversized meetings are commonplace, but I’d also say that many software development teams are too big for their own good. Small meetings are quicker, cheaper and more efficient. Smaller teams are nimbler, can come to quicker decisions and faster releases.
As a final note: I vowed to never reply “busy“ when somebody asks me how I am, because “busy” is not a state of mind that I should be in — “focused” is prefarable.