The Trouble with Being Busy

Dec 16, 2021 | Blog

Actually, there’s no trouble with being busy. The trouble arises when busyness is confused with productivity. “Being busy” is a phrase that is commonly just strewn about in many work-related situations. But what does being “busy” really mean? Without any context it is meaningless. We imagine and assume that it is an indication of output, of accomplishment, of time invested doing important things, things of value. It so frustrating when the term being “busy” is just simply thrown about without any context.


Busyness is often “worn” as a badge of honour, something to be proud of. Or as an excuse to avoid commitments such as work and social events, and even to avoid awkward questions, such as about why tasks haven’t been done. When a phone is constantly ringing without being answered, we assume the recipient must be busy doing something more important.

However, being busy and being productive are NOT the same thing! ‘Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment’ (Thomas Edison). So, the outcome, the desired goal, of all work is either production or accomplishment. If these are not achieved, then arguably, the work has been wasteful. Activity can often confused with productivity, and there is a stark difference between a busy day and a productive day.

Time Spent

“Time Spent” is an idea that is confused or substituted for being busy. Time spent doing anything, time physically present at a workplace, is often taken as the same thing as being busy doing valuable work. Focusing on time at work leads to being consumed solely by hours spent, not value produced.

Time and Money

The cliche that “time is money” is mostly not true! Rather, productivity is money. Time is, however, a critical component of productivity as it gives information about efficiency, about the rate of productivity. Someone can actually be very busy but not very productive. For example, if the goal is to spay 2 cats in 1 hour but it takes 2 hours (all things being equal), then although one has been busy operating, they have not been very productive.

Alignment of Productivity with Desired Outcomes

When responsibilities, roles and goals are unclear or ill-defined, it isn’t long before people either give up or, even worse, resort to trying to “look busy” instead of actually getting any real work done. You can be busy, even productive, and get lots done, but if it’s not in alignment with the desired goal, the desired outcome, then essentially the busyness, the productivity, is useless. The challenge is to focus on those things that matter the most, that are aligned with the desired goal, e.g. performing 4 consults in an hour rather that 2 because of being distracted by the less important such as making or taking non-urgent phone calls. Veterinary practices tend to be places of unpredictable chaos and unrelenting distractions and there is a need to stop managing time and manage “focus” instead.

Measuring Productivity

How productivity can be measured depends on the goals and knowing the benchmarks for a particular goal or service. You need to know the contribution impact to the practice. For example, revenue generated per vet can be a useful measure of productivity for employers. So, when making decisions about salaries and even fees charged, it makes sense that the actual contribution, the actual accomplishment, or actual goals achieved, should be the yard stick, not time spent or experience or even qualifications. Experience and qualifications should be a useful predictor of productivity as they should make it much easier and quicker to be productive, but ….. as many of us have already experienced, that does not always translate. The ability to convert experience, knowledge and skills into valuable productive work is what matters.

What Practices Need Right Now

High productivity often means accomplishing more but in less time, and often with less resources. We need to determine, and do, only that which matters most, because we just cannot do everything. This is what veterinary practices need right now.With the current recruitment challenges and staff shortages we need practices to be more productive without working any harder or any longer. The practices who achieve extraordinary results don’t achieve them by working more hours or with more people. They achieve them by getting more done in the hours worked, in other words by being more productive. Now, more than ever, PRODUCTIVE EMPLOYEES ARE THE HEROES OF VETERINARY PRACTICES.

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