Are You Lane Hopping At Work?

Busyness is bunk. See the hypothesis proven through detailed analysis of Nashville traffic, and learn how it's making you less productive at work.

The Morning Commute Is A Busy Place

Driving in to work one morning, I noticed this red RAV4 behind me. I noticed, because it seemed “jittery” as it kept zooming up behind my truck, but being unable to pass due to the traffic on either side. Finally, as soon as the RAV4 had the slightest crack of an opening, it exploded out from behind me, then darted back in front of me just inches away from my front bumper. It pulled the same death defying maneuver a handful of times as it continued to climb further out of sight up Highway 65. 

I continued at my steady, leisurely pace for another 5-10 minutes or so until it was time to take my exit. I rolled down the exit ramp to a traffic light, and guess who I pulled in behind: red RAV4. 

How was this possible? It felt like they were really doing some things to get ahead. Heck, they completely lost me in the short term. They looked so busy! All that effort, all that risk, all the narrow escapes led to red RAV4 reaching the light 25’ sooner (give or take – my truck is huge) than if it had kept cruising behind me. Let’s take a closer look at how this may have played out. 

The Cold, Hard Facts

I wasn’t paying the closest attention to where we were when RAV4 passed me, but let’s say we were 10 miles away from the exit we both ultimately took. 

At the time I was passed:

  • I was driving at about 70 MPH, which translates to traveling about 1 mile per .86 minutes (51.6 seconds). 
  • We’ll go ahead and assign RAV4 a solid 80 MPH after they passed me: that translates to 1 mile per .75 minutes (45 seconds). 

At these speeds, under ideal conditions: 

  • It would take me 8 minutes 36 seconds to drive 10 miles
  • It would take red RAV4 7 minutes 30 seconds to drive the same distance 

Throw in the possibility that they got trapped behind a slowpoke further up the line, or eventually worked their way to the far left lane and now had to merge across 3-5 more lanes of traffic to get to their exit, and they could easily have reached that light after me. Was all that risk and effort worth it to reach the destination 66 seconds ahead of schedule?

There are a couple of principles at play here:

1. I think mathematical literacy can help you avoid stupid decisions like darting in and out of traffic to save 66 seconds. 

2. Busyness for the sake of busyness is stupid in and of itself, whether on the highway, or at your desk.

How Does This All Translate To The Workplace?

Burning up effort for no obvious payout just doesn’t make sense to me, but it’s something that happens all of the time for a plethora of reasons – here are just a few:

  • You want to avoid being called on to take a project/task you’re uncomfortable with
  • You want to hide how little you’re actually bringing to the table by overcomplicating simple tasks
  • You’re just really impatient and are trying to do anything to speed up the process (see red RAV4)
  • You’re easily distracted
  • You’re chasing trends at the expense of real, sustainable strategy

What’s The Alternative To Being A Workplace RAV4?

Stop being a jerk and start focusing on knocking out the work that needs to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Sure, there’s always the fear that your efficiency will be “rewarded” with an extra portion of your slacker (RAV4) co-worker’s tasks, but here’s the thing: if you’re indispensable at your organization, the payoff on impact is higher than you may have the ability to imagine – and it buys you margin that’s greater than an extra 66 seconds. But it’s hard to have impact if you’re worried about picking up the slack or the edges of your role. 

I’ll leave you with one comment I once heard a pastor make: “busy” stands for “being under Satan’s yoke.” That one’s for you, red RAV4.

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