Tag Archives: work

Don’t look busy

This article originally appeared on The Editors’ Weekly, the official blog of Canada’s national editorial association

It’s a good thing I’m not working in-house anymore. I’ve been far too busy lately to look busy.

Those of you who have worked in corporate environments know what I’m talking about: You can spend an awful lot of time and effort looking busy instead of getting things done. There are a few reasons for that.

One reason is that, since we know work requires effort, and effort is tiring and demanding and becomes more unpleasant the more you do, we tend to assume that we’ll get more done if we make our lives hell.

Another reason is that a corporate environment is a social hierarchy, and it’s important to display your place in the hierarchy appropriately. You have to perform compliance behaviour to show your superiors that you are properly subordinate: showing up by a certain time, being at your desk looking like you’re doing work, attending meetings, doing emails late into the evening, displaying great effort for your masters. And if you have people reporting to you, you have to behave consistently with having responsibilities and status, which includes attending meetings to decide things, delegating tasks, and making sure your subordinates are performing their compliance behaviour. That’s a lot of time spent on looking busy and making sure other people are looking busy.

A third reason is that people who don’t know how to do things get to decide how they’re done. Since knowledge is assumed to confer status, status is assumed to come with knowledge, and anyway status trumps knowledge regardless. Bosses and clients have the status and get to make the decisions, whether or not they know the most. So things are often done inappropriately, ineffectively, and on unrealistic timelines. And you may spend a lot of time trying to convince your bosses and clients of better approaches.

A fourth reason is that because a lot of what we do is unpleasant (for reasons just given), many of us put it off until it requires rushing and working overtime, which is messier and less efficient but produces an illusion of being effective (for reasons also just given).

The result of all this is that many of us take a long time to learn an essential fact: If you know what you’re doing and plan well, you can get a lot done and still have time to rest and recharge.

Now that I’m a freelancer, I’m not part of anyone’s command structure. I’m a hired expert. As long as I deliver good results on time, the rest doesn’t matter. So I can plan to do the work when and as will be most efficient and effective.

So why am I so busy right now? Just because of one of the great benefits and hazards of freelancing: whereas in a corporate environment I was on salary and didn’t get any extra money for working extra, now every extra hour worked is money in the bank. And who doesn’t like making more money?

“I can do that!”

This is the text of a presentation I gave at The Writers’ Community of Durham Region’s monthly breakfast on April 9, 2011.

Have you ever seen A Chorus Line? I mean the Broadway musical or the movie that was made from it.

Now, there’s a show for a triple threat. You know, someone who can act, dance, and sing. There’s one great tapdance number in it – you might know it: “I’m watching sis go pit-a-pat, Said, ‘I can do that, I can do that.’”

That’s actually a pretty good guide to becoming a triple threat. In publishing. You know, writing, editing, design. By design I mean layout – desktop publishing. “I can do that” is also a good guide to getting to earn a living doing these things. And there’s a corollary: a good way not to get as far is to say, “I can’t do that. I won’t do that.” Continue reading