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Busy is a myth

Oct 18, 2018
By Dr Jill Walker

Listen to the conversations around you and you’ll notice it typically goes something like this:

“How are you?”

“Good, thanks. Busy. You?”

“Yeah – mad busy”

“I know, it’s crazy isn’t it? Although it’s good to be busy”.

We hear it all the time, but is busy actually good?

Action and the act of ‘doing’ gives us an adrenaline rush. It flatters our ego and makes us feel important.

We also get used to it and it becomes the norm. We get ‘velocitised’. When we first pull onto the motorway, 120kph seems fast. You pass through a village a while later and 50kph seems agonisingly slow.

The cost of busy

It’s time to take a good, hard look at our relationship with being busy. Just like an exciting but toxic relationship, there is a huge human cost to being too busy.

Working as an executive coach and resilience expert for the past 17 years, I see every day the price people are paying. No matter what type of – Irish or multinational, fast-paced tech companies and public sector organisations – people are feeling stressed and finding it difficult to switch off. Their sleep and health are affected. They aren’t getting enough time for things that are important to them, such as family, friends, exercise or hobbies. Many people end up getting sick on holidays (a phenomenon known as “adrenaline withdrawal sickness”) when they aren’t able to stay at a steady pace.

Block to top performance

While people think being busy is a sign of success, often the exact opposite is true. Research tells us that the more tasks people do, the less well they do each one. When under pressure, intuitive and creative thinking becomes much harder and, often, it’s more difficult to find time for important long-term projects, strategic thinking and innovating; the areas where leaders make the greatest impact.

The reality is, if you aren’t getting regular ‘quiet time’, you are not performing at your best.

Better, not busier

But it is possible to change this.

A senior executive I worked with went from working every weekend and evening to never taking her laptop home, enjoying her job and her life more, having a bigger impact as a leader and getting a promoted to director-level during this time. All of this started with her getting out of the hamster wheel of busy-ness.

The first step is to make the decision to change how busy you are.

Most of us want to be less busy but there is a huge distinction between thinking about something, even wanting something, and deciding to make it happen. If you decide to be less busy, here are some actions that will kick-start the process:

  • If you feel busy, you will always BE busy. Ban the word busy from your inner dialogue. Every time you feel busy, repeat a calming mantra to yourself such as: “I have all the time and space for everything I need.”
  • Schedule at least two hours of free space in your calendar each week for thinking, planning, strategising, innovating, and long-term projects).

  • Create a buffer between meetings of at least half an hour where possible.

  • Only check your emails a few times a day and when you have time to follow through on them.

  • Get good at strategic subtraction. Aim for “less but better”.

Be honest with yourself. How healthy is your relationship with being busy and is it time to break up with the idea?

Jill Walker is a transformative coach: