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Busy culture: 5 symptoms of some organizations

Image of a worried woman in the office with multiple tasks

Busy culture: 5 symptoms of some organizations

The busy organization

It is natural to believe that, if you work longer hours, you will have a greater impact on the organization. In my first jobs we once had to work up to 20 hours a day including Saturdays and Sundays. Of course, the project was behind schedule and we were past the deadline. We were working so hard that we were not making any progress.

Although it may seem contradictory, we had not clearly understood the objective, nor the technology we were using, nor how to work as a team. Those were dark days and most of us have probably been through similar times, including when we had to deliver projects in college and the famous “hand-offs”.

The amazing thing is that organizations today suffer from this same problem. They have a group of people, all working at maximum capacity, paying or compensating overtime and the value to the organization and customers is minimal or in some cases nil.

People look up to each other and compete to see who has the busiest schedule. If you have room in the schedule you sure aren’t as productive. Or if you don’t spend the day working on something urgent it seems you are not needed and bring little value to the organization.

You should know that, if you feel identified, your organization is not the only one. That is the reality in many, if not all organizations. This dysfunction is known as the busy culture.

If you have doubts or want to confirm if your organization suffers from this malady, then go through the following symptoms. If you identify with more than one, it is very likely that you suffer from it. There are no easy cures, but with each symptom we give you some strategies that can help you.


mujer estresada

1. Full agenda

If you or most of your organization’s employees always have their schedules full of meetings, have to work overtime to answer emails or make reports, you have already identified a first symptom. Usually many of these activities, especially meetings, add little value. There are no clear objectives, no deliverable or important decision. Colloquially we call this symptom “meetingitis”.

One strategy to mitigate or eliminate this problem is to clearly establish your objectives and compare them with the objectives of the sessions. If you or your team is clear about the objectives to be met, this will allow you to identify which meetings are important and which are not.

Establish time periods for your individual and team work so that you always have space for important work. Respect this schedule and then only accept important meetings in the remaining time slots.

hombre apurado viendo hora

2. The urgent

We all like to feel productive and there is nothing more productive than solving urgent problems. If there are no urgent problems to solve, there are no heroes and the sense of accomplishment is low. That’s why we like so much to be in this state, or as Covey identifies it (citing 7 habits of highly effective people) in quadrant I, urgent and important.

But we cannot live in this quadrant, organizations cannot live in this quadrant and just tell you the day to day. If there is no room for important and non-urgent activities, we are condemned to work hard and generate little value.

Start by understanding the causes that cause you or your organization to always be in this state of urgency. Identify the main one and make a plan to mitigate or eliminate this cause. Repeat until you have adequate space for important and strategic tasks. Start a cycle of continuous improvement and little by little you will see valuable results.

Brújula señalando si

3. Always yes

One of the factors that makes us busy but unproductive people is that we never say no. You know the saying, when everything is important, nothing is important. You know the saying, when everything is important, nothing is important. If every call has to be answered immediately, if every inquiry has to be solved immediately interruption, if while in a session people are answering chats, etc. It means that everything is important and therefore we cannot stop doing it.

At the same time we do not realize that by doing something we are also leaving something else undone. We are doing prioritization after prioritization without realizing it. The problem does not lie in changing priorities, it lies in the fact that we make these changes without any basis, without understanding the value of what we are doing versus what is interrupting us.

First we must be clear about what activity or task is most valuable to us. What is our main goal for the day, for example. Then we have to learn to say no. By working on a task and knowing its value, people could easily decide when they can say no to other requests or interruptions.

presión laboral

4. Negative pressure

When the culture of being busy is deeply rooted in the organization, it creates a negative pressure that causes people to put pressure on themselves to be in that state. If someone enters the organization, is an orderly and effective person, they will begin to notice that other people have their schedules full, they stay an extra hour or two every day, and the normal departure time is never respected.

If the organization values people for that kind of behavior and not for meeting its objectives, it is likely to decide to change and adapt, also projecting a busy, overworked image.

In these organizations the same people make it look bad to leave at the normal time or show themselves as not busy, for example, always at the workstation.

This change is more difficult and the best option is for the leaders of the organization to start changing these habits themselves. Incorporating an evaluation system based on objectives and not on reporting hours and tasks would be the main objective.

persona trabajando en vacaciones

5. Vacations

I once knew a person in an organization who had so many vacation days accumulated and kept accumulating that all her Fridays were off and she had to follow this practice for at least three years. How envious!

When people are very busy they usually feel that they are indispensable to the organization and therefore it is difficult for them to take vacation time. Add to this some overtime compensation and the number can grow rapidly over two or three years. We also see people on vacation still sending emails and chats.

This symptom is sometimes disguised because organizations have controls on the amount of vacation accrued and enforce a maximum. At least some do.

Even in some organizations I’ve seen people compete for who has the most accrued vacation!

Obviously in this case the solution is not related to the amount of vacation per se, but to the fact that people should know that part of doing a job well is that the organization does not depend on them. Again, working by objectives, teamwork and knowledge sharing are key for the organization to meet its objectives and for people to be able to take their vacations and enjoy the time off they deserve.


The culture of “being busy” is like a chronic disease. Perhaps the organization will not die from it, or at least not immediately. But it will always represent a wear and tear and an obstacle to achieving the proposed objectives. It’s like having a small leak in a pipe. It doesn’t seem like a major cost unless we look at the total accumulated over time.

It makes people’s work less satisfying and even leads to states of fatigue and demotivation.

Do not let this culture become established in your organization and if you recognize some of these symptoms, do not hesitate to take action as soon as possible. Organize your company in terms of agility with a strategic ally that adds value. Rely on Interfaz.

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