I’m sure at some stage you will have come across someone or multiple people at work who are forever telling everyone how busy they are but you don’t see them doing much of what I’ll refer to as the real work. And when you think about it it’s not all that difficult to look as if we’re busy but if we're not getting outcomes then all we are doing is spinning wheels.
The reason for posing the question “are you just spinning wheels at work” is I often see people unknowingly wasting time without making real progress. For clarification I’ll go with the Cambridge Dictionary definition for the term to spin your wheels is “to waste time doing things that achieve nothing.”
But it’s not always just the individual trying to get out of work causing this to happen. More so I believe it’s a combination of the individual and the following factors:
1. Busyness – a reaction to being extremely busy can be a feeling of being overwhelmed when the person doesn’t know where to focus. While there might be activity, it’s likely it won’t be on the necessary priorities to make progress
2. Capability – specific job related skills might be weak or even missing altogether which can lead to a person lacking confidence
3. Right role – is there a poor fit between the person and the role due to either lacking capability or sufficient interest to being successful in the role?
4. Lost their way – has a requirement, conflict or something changed causing the individual to lose their way?
5. Don’t feel part of the team – is a sense of feeling isolated causing disengagement?
The wasted productivity by one person is quite significant but think about the multiplier effect when this occurs to several people in a team or a department.
Spinning wheels just doesn’t apply to people as it’s also relevant to activities like meetings without an agenda, purpose, actions or measurement.
There is some hope though. After reviewing hundreds of employees and six hundred managers, a study from the Harvard Business School found what is referred to as the “power of small wins.“ Essentially employees are highly productive and driven to do their best work when they feel as if they’re making progress every day toward a meaningful goal.
If you find you’re spinning wheels then three options are to:
1. Communicate with your manager – if your manager isn’t already aware of the situation they might be able to help you by organising specific mentoring, training or even make your role more interesting
2. Take action – if you’re in the wrong role and you can’t do anything to find your feet in it then you might be better off finding a more suitable role
3. The power of small wins - look at how you plan, prioritise and execute each day. Keep it simple and chunk down larger goals or objectives into smaller achievable tasks
There’s also even more fundamental reasons why each of us should continually explore ways to improve productivity. With achievement comes satisfaction and even pride but importantly we increase our value to the organisation which can potentially lead onto other opportunities. Finally, it just makes work more fun and rewarding.