I’ve got a million things to do…

hi_so_busyI’ve run across a recurring theme lately that’s been extremely frustrating. Everybody is busy. I don’t mean productive either.

Families are busy. Workers are busy. Managers are busy. In all of this busyness we’re missing the part about living well, about performing and expending effort without seeing meaningful outcomes and being productive. Dictionary.com lists their #2 definition of busyness as “lively but meaningless activity”.  Do you see a lot of lively activity around you but little meaning or VALUE being produced? I do.

For a long time there has been a push in business to reduce staff in order to reduce cost. People are expensive. Every time there is a mandate to reduce costs, cut budgets, and make the numbers we see people as the first thing to go. My frustration is that there’s NEVER a reduction of work. In fact, I’d argue that work always increases unless the goal of the business is to get smaller, produce less or shrink market share.

Now if you’re reducing people because of efficient and effective automation and your efforts improve EVERYTHING then OK. But I rarely see this as the result of staff reductions. What actually happens is some poor schmuck gets MORE work every time there’s another reduction.

I’ve worked in organizations that have had too much bureaucracy, too much process and too many people to deal with which resulted in nothing getting done. I’ve also worked with those who have cut and cut and cut, sometimes entire departments at a time. The result is everyone has too much work for anyone to be efficient and there is too little knowledge to be effective so…nothing gets done.

So where’s the logic in this? If you are one of those who have cut staff to cut costs Here’s a few areas where you’re wrong:


Did you cut staff because they had nothing or little to do? Did you give their work to someone who had nothing or little to do?

If either of those are true then it is leadership or management who needs to go not the worker. Since nobody is admitting that then you’re just creating new problems for yourself by loading too much work on too few people. Like the scene in the 1927 silent film Metropolis where workers can’t keep up with the work, only two outcomes can occur: Workers fail (aka stress, anxiety or resignation) or the work fails.

You may not realize it but most workers take responsibility without saying no. They will want to perform even if they feel overwhelmed. They will continue to try and prioritize and manage their time until they break. The last thing they will do is look you in the eye and say; which of these tasks do you not want to get done? They should.


This reminds me of the carpenters joke: I’ve cut it and cut it and cut it and it’s still too short. When leadership and management strikes the staff reduction bell first without considering what happens next or without first addressing creative and innovative productivity options then the clanging resonance will cause severe repercussions.

When leadership and management believes staff reductions are the answer they’ve missed the opportunity to tap into workers knowledge, creativity and their understanding of where waste and operational stupidity could be overcome. Dismissing people removes their cost but also removes their intellectual property and insight. You’ll not replace that with a H1-B worker either. It’s gone.


The most powerful thing any leader has is the trust of those around them. Despite leadership and managements best efforts to appear wise and intellectual, the ever increasing burden you place on workers, due to reductions, who must assume more and more workload will immediately cause them to not trust your judgement. If you once had their trust the best thing you’ve got now is their fear.

Workers who’ve survived repetitious “all hands” meetings where the latest restructuring efforts are communicated followed by staff reductions know they could be next. They know there is no guarantee they’ll be employed tomorrow. They’ve seen too many great coworkers escorted out and their knowledge lost. Each day they come to work with heads down and a CYA attitude. It’s a survival game. This new learned attitude may manifest itself in a quite spirit, aka hiding, or it could release outbursts of aggressiveness, intolerance and anger. Sound familiar?

Your front line people, the ones doing actual work, will quickly see the failure of your judgement through inefficiencies, ineffective outcomes and subdued negative cultures. This will most likely kick in their fight or flight response. If they chose to fight they will try and figure out which tasks are really important and which ones can go undone. In large organizations fighting means hiding or masking productivity to appear busy or divert blame. You’ll commonly hear the busyness, I’ve got a million things to do, excuse. After all, everybody is now too busy to pay much attention and can relate so the lack of productivity is easily accepted. You may not even notice the slowing of the corporate machine.

If they chose to flee then…their gone. You once again lose their knowledge, their experience and insight and their intellectual contributions, and likely to a competitor.

BTW – If I were running a growing business in your market I’d be monitoring when my competitors release staff. I’d immediately hire them either as full time, part time or contractors and put them on a skunk-works team to discover your weakness, your initiatives and then develop innovative ways to bury you.


Here’s another surprise. Multitasking is a myth. Nobody can do more than one thing at a time. If you believe that you are a good multitasker others see you as unfocused and lacking discipline. That’s a fact. If I hear people excuse inaction or missed deadlines due to being busy I immediately think they lack the ability to prioritize and focus. This more than likely rolls up the chain meaning they’ve been given more to do and no leadership in setting priorities about what is important.

As stated earlier, leadership and management may never see how the organization is slowing down. Cutting staff forces others to consume more time doing less work because they’ve lost the capacity to collaborate with others. Timelines extend and efforts actually weaken as the organization accepts the “do more with less” mandates.

Those making the decisions must bear the responsibility.


Every business will face times when budgets demand some form of reduction. If leadership is keeping an eye on the far horizons and making preparations ahead of time you can manage through these times and protect workers and their critical knowledge. How can you do this? Well that’s the subject of another Welcome to My Opinion – Here’s Why You’re Wrong post.

If you’ve got a particular item you’d like me to comment about let me know.


~ by Jeff Williams on September 26, 2016.

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