Have you got “not-busy guilt”?

By April 7, 2020 April 8th, 2020 Leadership

You’ve set your office up, finally managed to work out how to get on a video call and are secretly enjoying the lack of a commute. You have probably been for more walks in the last two weeks than in the last two years and discovered things about your local neighbourhood you didn’t know. And you are busy, busy, busy…… or are you?

Strange things are happening to us two weeks in. Many of us had different reactions to the working at home directive. You may have noticed that some of us sprang into action, came up with 25 different ideas to grab the opportunities presented by the challenge and set up more social media links than Kylie Jenner to keep in touch with everybody. Then some of us flailed around a bit doing a good impression of Virgil the puppet in Thunderbirds not sure what was happening and how we should respond.

These responses are totally normal and will have produced some great work. Those who have paused, reflected, planned and remained calm will have done lots of foundational work that will come to fruition in the next few weeks. Those who could leap into action will have kept spirits up, kept your organisation agile and bravely gone…

And now the lull where “not busy guilt” can creep in. This is a form of natural guilt which serves as an internal elbow in your ribs to help you identify uncomfortable behaviour and change course. Natural guilt prompts you to call your Mum, leave your phone number when you scrape a car manoeuvring out of a parking space or alert the restaurant to an item missing off your bill.  Natural guilt, some social scientists believe, comes from our ability to empathise with others’ suffering.

How do you know you’ve got it? Look at some of these phrases, do any of them specifically or broadly sound like the voice in your head?

  1. My colleagues are snowed under and I’m finding it hard to get dressed never mind fill a working day.
  2. I’ve been busy doing the stuff I thought needed doing but now I’m not sure I made the right choices.
  3. Why can’t I leave Piers Morgan to himself and get some work done?
  4. Another day faffing about with nothing to show for it.

This inner talk could be a sign of natural guilt. These thoughts can stop us sleeping, be weapons to attack ourselves with and generally make us feel useless.

The good news is that if you have a healthy relationship with your personal guilt, you don’t agonise over the feelings, you use the dig in the ribs to change your behaviour.

Let’s take the thoughts above and use them as examples of ways we can re frame thoughts.

  1. Your colleagues may well be snowed under, some of us have jobs that have not stopped during this time (think advice line workers, outreach workers, Hospice clinicians). You may have a job that can’t progress now, cannot happen (event organisers for example) or is difficult to do from home. If you are used to being flat out with a huge workload, that’s not normal. When we then have a manageable workload, we think we are skiving. So, chill a little, step back, look at which bits of your job can continue and what you may need to introduce to prepare for the future when all this is over.
  2. If you are not sure what you should be doing, try asking. We are all in the same boat so there is no reason to feel bad about this. A chat with your line manager to agree what is a priority for you now will mean you start producing and stop feeling like you are wasting your time. Becoming proactive now will serve you well if you embrace it as a normal stage of change not wallow in “I should have been doing this all along”
  3. Just say no to Piers. Have a start time, put some structure into your day to give you the reason you need to be at your desk. Maybe Piers can be recorded and be your treat at the end of a productive day?
  4. Are you really faffing? Review your work at the end of the day and recognise the things you have achieved. You may have been grappling with some technology you have never used before which feels like faffing but at the end of the day, you’ve nailed it – tick on your to do list.

If you do need to fill some time how about volunteering to help busier teams? Accessing online learning to skill yourself up, refresh and consolidate your professional skills. Finally doing that not urgent but important progress task you have shuffled around your desk for the last three months – now that would be a huge surge of productivity!

You have the power within you to overcome your natural guilt, proactivity rules!

More resources:

We have created two free online modules to help both managers and staff adjust to working remotely.  They are short, punchy and packed with ways to stay focused, motivated and connected whilst working away from the office. Click on the links below to watch.