Busyness is not Productivity – 7 Common Causes of Busyness

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In the 1930’s John Maynard Keynes reckoned that his grandchildren would work around “three hours a day”—and probably only by choice because economic progress and technological advances will have been the main drivers in the dramatic reduction in hours that people work.

It appears that Keynes was well wide of the mark in his predications as ‘busyness’ is turning into one of the more pressing problems for businesses of all types and sizes. The majority of people we encounter in business in response to the question ‘how are you?’ usually respond with what is becoming the default response ‘great to see you”, “I am so busy’ or words to that effect, and in the main they are.

This began a discussion amongst our team at Viventé Australia about the causes and the impact of this state of busyness on productivity; what causes it and how can people reduce their state of busyness if they find themselves in such a situation?

7 Causes of Busyness

Busyness causes and contributors are more wide ranging than we first thought. Here is what we have concluded thus far:

  • People with higher education levels and qualifications are more likely to enjoy what they do for a living, and identify closely with their careers. The same can be said for those who have a stronger entrepreneurial focus and are developing their own business. Both groups willingly work long hours as they see this as a worthwhile investment.
  • Individualistic cultures like Australia value individual growth and achievement ahead of affiliation and relationships as a key success measure.
  • Affluent larger cities have higher costs of living and increased commuting times which are offset by higher remuneration, however, it also raises the value of people’s available time in which to accomplish things.
  • Aversion to being idle. We expect to be busy and we are unsure of what to do when we are not because as a species we have a bias for action.
  • Taken to the extreme we have an addiction to being busy.
  • Despite a bias for action we work in environments that are inefficient and what’s more people accept that ‘it’s just the way it is’ and compensate by working longer hours in a prolonged state of busyness.
  • Impact of technology from a number of perspectives:
    • Speed. Technology improvements make it possible to do tasks faster and to multi-task so people feel the pressure to work at a faster pace.
    • Accessibility. The myriad of devices available make it possible for people to be connected to their work almost all the time.
    • Expectation. Because of the ease of connection, organisations expect people to be available and to complete work outside of what are considered normal work hours. It becomes a cultural expectation.
  • Job insecurity resulting from more competition for well-paid roles.

Are these heightened levels of busyness productive for individuals, teams and organisations? It’s doubtful.

In the early part of the last century Yerkes and Dodson established an empirical law based on the relationship between arousal and performance. The law dictates that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point. When levels of arousal (excitement or anxiety/stress) become too high, performance decreases. Applying this law to our preoccupation with being busy and the stress that is creating indicates that there comes a time in our day or our week where we cease to be productive because of the pressures we feel to be busy or to be seen to be busy.

Take a moment to consider what we have shared and where you sit. Please let us know by posting a comment if you agree with our perspectives, or not. Also, if you think there are other contributing factors to this state of busyness please share them with us as we are keen to keep exploring this issue in order to better understand the drivers.

Next week we will share with you some ideas and approaches on how to reduce busyness.


Vivente Australia enables leaders and managers develop the bond between people and performance, creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its best.

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