People always advise us to “work smart,” but how do we do that, specifically? Indeed, all work is not created equal, and just because you are laboring mightily doesn’t mean that your business is prospering. As a matter of fact, hard work can actually impede success. It all depends on how you’re working. Here are three “bad busy” problems and suggestions for turning them into “good busy” opportunities.

1. The Busy Work Syndrome

Problem. Some people, be they owners, staffers, or trainees, keep plenty busy but never accomplish anything. Being buried in busy work has its advantages. When you’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off, you don’t have to think. Paradoxically, it can be far more relaxing to be immersed in tasks, rather than stepping back and engaging in reflective thought. And then there’s the political angle: If you’re always busy, nobody will throw more work at you, or God forbid, more responsibility.

Solution. Use a critical eye to look at every task being done in your business. They accumulate like junk in the basement. If you don’t need it, throw it out. Be efficient; meaning, insist that every task demonstrably contributes to a vital business objective. When a business focuses on efficiency, it truly begins to work smart … and in some ways, to work less.

2. Fear of Delegating

Problem. “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” This is the epitaph of many a failed business. Entrepreneurs tend to be control freaks brimming with confidence, so they’re apt to feel that any job they dish off to a subordinate will get botched. Well, guess what – they’re probably right! Especially in the early stages, owners have far more expertise than anyone on staff. But without a willingness to delegate, an owner never coaches up the staff. And the most talented employees – the ones who are ready, willing, and able to accept responsibility – get frustrated and leave. The company can’t grow because the employees can’t grow. `

Solution. Embrace a culture of learning. Mistakes are learning opportunities; welcome them! We all know in our hearts that lessons are best learned when we learn them the hard way. Allowing employees to fail in the short run guarantees their success and yours in the long run. Manage the risk of delegating by being the backstop – it’s a much better strategy than trying to play every position yourself.

3. Chasing Shiny New Objects

Problem. Diving into the latest and greatest thing that promises to revolutionize your business looks like a ton of fun … until you realize that there’s no water in the pool.  Oh, the time we waste riding the social media bandwagon, the CRM bandwagon, the Six Sigma bandwagon, etc., etc., etc. Few things are more risky for a small business than diving into something new, primarily because it takes so much work – no training manuals to read, best practices to follow, or established metrics to use as a scorecard. All of those things have to be created by you. Chasing shiny new objects usually plays out in one of two ways. Either you fully commit and fail dramatically, or you dabble and fail in dribs and drabs.

Solution. Pick your spots very carefully, because being a late adopter is usually the winning strategy. New things aren’t necessarily bad, but waiting to implement enables you to take advantage of what others have learned and to forego a mountain of wasted motion. It all boils down to that time-tested virtue, patience.

Over to You

As a final thought for this meditation on work, we would do well to heed the warning of Socrates, who said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” A work ethic gone wild can squeeze the joy out of life. Most successful firms that I’ve been around have employees who enjoy coming to work. I don’t know if that is why they became successful or an outgrowth of success, but it’s an interesting question. What do you think? A few other questions:

  • What work being done in your organization appears to have little or no value?
  • What’s your plan for replacing this bad work with good work?
  • What’s your plan for turning good work into good fun?