Busy but not focused

(image from @james-ward on ello)

Part of my job involves managing laterally. One of the people with whom I work closely has a very different workstyle than I do. Their job seems to require similar skills: big picture-strategic thinking, project management, ability to implement, all those good skills that get stuff done. However, this person, who rose into the role more from longevity at the institution and desire for upward mobility and not necessarily from any kind of real knack for it, has a hard time maneuvering through the big picture. I think it’s opposite of someone who can’t see the forest through the trees…if I’m using that metaphor correctly?

They tend to become paralyzed when faced with larger undertakings, and can’t drill a project down to the simplest components, delegate, and cycle through to completion.  As a result, when they are entrusted with assisting in other projects–such as ones in which I am involved–the typical response is that they’re too busy, so busy, just…busy. The unfortunate part is that through all of their busy-ness, there’s no focus, and little is achieved when a simple shift in outlook could result in much more.

This type of person I’m describing is a common find in organizations like mine: state-run, strong unions, etc, where promotions are more common for those with longevity and not so much merit. They hide under the cloak of busy and involve themselves with the busy work–which becomes an obsession–instead of addressing the larger issues which they should be managing.

I’m far from an expert on management methodologies, but I do need to find ways to work with these folks, so I’ve devised a kind of system with which I can apply to working with this person to help them focus their work and I, as well as the rest of the team, can move forward.

  1. Stay proactive
    It’s easy to let someone entrenched in negativity drag you down, but staying above the fray reduces friction and helps keep a clear head. Offer solutions to help their busy-ness and stay focused on problem-solving, but don’t get bogged down. Try to channel their focus into productivity.
  2. Don’t take it personally
    As I’ve grown and learned how to accept criticism, I’ve come to realize the difference between earned and unearned criticism. Passive aggression, particularly from these types of people, is unearned, and it usually stems from something within them and isn’t an honest or fair reflection on you and your work. Rather than take a rude comment personally, consider the source objectively, and let it roll away.
  3. Pick your battles
    Even the most difficult people have positive qualities. Find ways to get around the negative to enhance the positive, but evaluate if the effort is worth the reward. My favorite question to ask myself in this kind of instance: Is this the hill I want to die on?

At the end of the day, when managing laterally, communicating effectively is at the heart of building productive relationships. I do believe that when we help each other, we raise each other up as well as the entire sea level of the organization (even if incrementally).  I’m not a member of the Cult of Busy (that’s a topic for another post), but I recognize how easily people fall into that hole, and lose focus.

What are your strategies for working with people who are always *so* busy?

What do you think?

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