Inefficient Overwork: A Sneaky Bad Habit
I first heard the term Inefficient Overwork from Allison Bishins, a business consultant in the Tacoma Area, who got it from a NYT article. I’ve thought about inefficient overwork and how it relates to procrastination. There are obvious and unproductive ways procrastination shows up, like social media or binging your favorite show when you should be doing something else, and there are sneaky “productive” ways procrastination shows up (see my blog post on this here). Sometimes procrastination shows up in other ways. It can show up as going down rabbit holes, or doing busywork.
Gayle Porter, an associate professor of management at the Rutgers School of Business, when asked about workaholics, said “They’re not looking for ways to be more efficient; they’re just looking for ways to always have more work to do.”
This rang true for me. There are things I put off because they really aren’t that important, but there are also things I put off for other reasons. While I put the bulk of the project off, I might do some things to make me feel better about putting it off. I’ve had to learn to examine what I’m doing because while I may call it productive procrastination, sometimes I’m subconsciously finding ways to make things harder.
I’ve had to come up with a way to categorize what I’m doing based on the impact of my efforts, not by how worthy the work feels in the moment. I’ve come to view these categories as “Pre-work” and “Busywork.”
Pre-work includes things I can do now that will streamline my efforts later. For example, if the task is writing a blog post, outlining my ideas now is something that will streamline the process of writing the article later. It will help me find relevant sources and come up with clearer examples when it comes time to write. I often use pre-work when I have some time to work on a task but I don’t have time to tackle the whole task right now.
Busywork is work for the sake of work. Busywork is spending countless amount of time looking for the “perfect” photo or quote for a blog article. Busywork is creating a chart or graphic organizer of a blog post idea after I already created an outline. Busywork is recopying my blog post schedule. Busywork is rewriting a blog post in my head after I have completed, reviewed and scheduled a post.
Here is how I tell the difference between pre-work and busywork. Pre-work is work I can do now to help make the work I need to do later go smoother. Busywork is work I can do now to put off doing something else. Every example I listed as busywork is further delaying writing the blog post I should be working on, while the pre-work example directly feeds into the quality of work.
Once I know something is busywork, I need to let it go. It's not serving a purpose. If something is pre-work, I get that work done and schedule when I will get to the meat of the task.