Is being busy a good thing?

This month Jamie Morley discusses why being busy doesn’t always mean people are achieving, and suggests other strategies for recognising success in your dental practice.

A very common phrase I hear from everyone, including myself is, ‘I’m too busy’.

In some way we see this as an excuse for not doing something, and in another way we also see this as a badge of honour. That we are working so hard, and isn’t that great?

I think it’s also sometimes an escape from the tough reality of finding out that what we do doesn’t always work. By saying that we are being busy, it almost gives us an excuse if what we are doing isn’t working.

Recently, my attention was immediately drawn to my most recent copy of the Harvard Business Review whose front cover refers to the ‘Busyness Trap’ and an article with the heading ‘Beware a Culture of Busyness’. You can read the full article here.

The essential gist of the article is that organisations must stop combining busyness and achievement into one. While the article speaks to corporate organisations, I think there are real learnings that can be taken into dental practices.

Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean you are achieving. We have to be busy doing the right things in order to achieve. And actually, we need to take it further than that as always being busy doesn’t lead to success and achievement.

Why is being busy so important to us?

Effort justification – effort justification is a person’s tendency to attribute the value of an outcome to the effort they put in, rather than to the objective value of the outcome itself. As an example, a practice manager may attribute a significant amount of value to doing all the payments for the associates at the end of the month because of the amount of time and effort it takes. Yet the value of doing that is likely to be less.

Organisations create and encourage a culture of busyness – working hard and being busy is good. This is encouraged and rewarded above outcomes.

We hate to be idle – various psychological experiments have shown over time that we hate to be idle and would much rather fill our time doing something.

Our customers value busyness – many customers equate effort with worth and so we are sometimes trying to demonstrate this to our customers.

So, how does the article suggest we change this? And how does it apply to dental practices?

Reward output and activity – don’t just reward and pay for the activity, also reward for output. Don’t just reward a nurse for working so many hours with their salary, you also reward them for output. What is their output? Well, you could say it is to provide care to the patient. You could look at customer reviews for that nurse. What moves that nurse from doing the basic mundane tasks into doing something that really adds value for the practice? Challenge yourself to think what that additional output measure is and reward it.

Generate cognitively demanding work – studies have shown that doing repetitively mundane work actually reduces our ability to do cognitively demanding work. The more we do this work, the better we become at it. Taking this into dentistry, we have to create work for everybody that is not mundane and repetitive to them. Keep them challenged with new work.

Allow time for your employees minds to be creative, to wonder and generate – I think this is hugely missing in many dental practices with little attention or time given to team members. If you are trying to get through the list, often no time or value is given to input from the team. You have to put time aside for this.

Model the right behaviour – it is down to the leader to demonstrate in their own behaviour that it is about being productive and not just being busy. They must create their own time for being creative and allowing their minds to wander. They must measure their own behaviour in terms of output, not just activity.

Build slack into the system – for many reading this, they will suggest that this is just not affordable for a small business. To an extent this may be true, but how can you build some slack into your systems and processes? To take a sporting analogy, you always have substitutes in the event of something happening. It makes sense to have somebody who almost acts like a substitute and can fill in gaps when situations arise. When there isn’t that need, there are always proactive things which that person can do.

Be clear on what is important – ensuring everybody is clear on where the practice is heading, the values and the key strategies ensures that any time is focused on what will be productive for the organisation. Give them the opportunity to input and make a difference to these strategies.

This challenge of time may seem small. But when you look at why it happens and the ways to overcome it, I believe it also has a much broader impact on engaging and retaining dental staff, dentists and team members.

Especially at a time when retention and engagement is a real challenge.

Jamie Morley is the author of Lead Your Dental Practice available at

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