Beware of Busyness: Harnessing Willpower for Purposeful Action

Only a small fraction of managers actually get something done that really matters or moves their organizations forward in a meaningful way.” Heike Bruch & Sumantra Ghoshal, in A Bias for Action – How Effective Managers Harness Their Willpower, Achieve Results, and Stop Wasting Time, Harvard Business School Press, 2004.

Only about 10 percent of managers work purposefully to get important work done, according to a ten-year study of managerial behavior in a variety of industries. The other 90 percent lose their potential by busily engaging in non-purposeful activities, procrastinating, detaching from their work, and spinning wheels needlessly.

Busy idleness affects everybody and pervades all aspects of life, personal as
well as professional. Despite having easy access to knowledge and time-saving work resources, we continue to spend most of our time making the inevitable happen, instead of putting energy and focus into those few activities that would really make a difference.

Why do so many smart, talented executives end up losing valuable time and
energy, rather than acting in truly productive ways?

Daily routines, superficial behaviors, poorly prioritized or unfocused tasks sap
managers’ capacities. Operational activities squeeze out problems that are more crucial to achieving results. Managers often ignore or postpone dealing with the more critical issues, in favor of putting out fires and attending to squeaky wheels.

Unproductive busyness is perhaps the most critical behavioral problem in large companies.

Everyday managerial work is hazardous to focus. Managers typically work on a variety of different tasks simultaneously. They must rely on the help of others to get the job done, often without tangible milestones or clearly defined processes or goals. Days are full of interruptions and unexpected demands on time without relief.

Yet even so, some managers are able to surmount the urgent interruptions and maintain focus on getting the right things done to achieve results. What is
different for this group of 10 percent?

The full 2000 word article is available with full reprint rights for your use in
your newsletters and informational products. It covers the following concepts:

Energy and Focus
The Frenzied Manager
The Detached Manager
The Procrastinator
The Purposeful Manager
Developing Willpower
Organizations that Support Purposeful Action
How To Jump-Start Your Energy…
How To Sharpen Your Focus…

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