Busyness: A Modern Day Badge of Honor

I awakened yesterday at 5:45am, and after reading through my email on my iphone, I hit the gym at 6:30 for an hour-long workout. I then rushed home for a quick breakfast with my partner, showered, dressed, and prepared for my first meeting. I ran out of the house with my hair still damp and coffee in tow. I arrived at the office at 8:45 and was greeted with back-to-back meetings that were so tightly scheduled that I barely had time for a bathroom break, let alone lunch. After work, I returned home and my son needed help resolving an issue at school. Once I’d spent time with him fixing that, it was time for dinner, and I was already running late; I was due at a local restaurant at 7pm and there was no way that I was going to make it on time. I arrived 20 minutes late and was greeted by my friends with a knowing understanding. I tried to enjoy my meal, but I still had work on my mind, as I needed to complete a speech for an upcoming high-stakes meeting and my slides were past due to the organizers. I came home after dinner and sat down for three more hours of work. When the clock struck midnight, I shut my computer down and headed upstairs to bed, checking a few text messages on the way up the stairs to the bedroom. It was time for lights out, but my mind was still engaged.

Sound familiar? With organizations doing more with less and with advances in technology allowing us to connect anywhere, any time, we risk being available 24/7. For most of us, gone are the days in which we get to leave work behind when we leave work. Our personal and professional lives start to bleed together, as we begin checking email starting the very moment we wake up and continue into the late hours of the night and the standard Monday-through-Friday work week is no longer entirely separate from the weekend. And the odd thing is that most of us wear this as a badge of honor. Just think about it: When someone asks you how you are, how do you respond? Do you say “I’m well” or do you say “I’m busy” or maybe even “I’m crazy busy”? Most of us profess our busyness.

While some people equate busyness with high social status (if we are so busy, we must be important), the health-related consequences of our always-on culture are becoming better known, with negative long-term impacts on our health, well-being, and happiness. Chronic busyness leads to chronic stress.

Some of our busyness is short term — your boss asks you to help with an urgent project that’s due tomorrow or you are preparing for a dinner party for 20 people on Saturday night. Most of us are resilient in these time-limited stressful situations. It’s a chronic state of busyness that leads to bigger problems. Too much busyness creates a pattern of engagement based on reflexive action, rather than thought before action. Problems of decreased attention span, disengagement, and poor decision-making can negatively affect our work and our relationships.

What can we do?

The good news is that there are things that we can do to manage busyness. Here are a few simple tips:

Take a breath. Even one deep breath can help us to be less reactive and slow us down.

Take a break. Even a two-minute break each hour can help with feeling refreshed and renewed.

· Give yourself some down time. Life will always be busy, but the first line of defense in management is simple: Try not to purposely overschedule yourself.

Limit technology. Take your phone out of your pocket or purse and place it in a “tech basket” on your desk when it is not in use during the day. Turn noncritical alerts off. Check text messages and emails at scheduled times only, at most three to four times per day.

Banish phones from the bedroom. Keep your phone out of your bedroom at night if at all possible. At the very least, don’t sleep with it!

Set boundaries. Don’t try to be everything to everyone.

Practice self-care. Do something pleasurable for yourself each day, even if only for a short time. Take a bath, go for a walk in nature, or enjoy a cup of coffee at a local café — whatever you need to reconnect with yourself for a moment.

It’s important to keep in mind that being busy does not mean being productive. Trying to do too many things at once or too quickly decreases productivity. A better solution is managing demands instead of allowing yourself to be managed by them.

I offer more tips on managing busyness and enhancing productivity in my book, Beyond the Mat: Achieve Focus, Presence and Enlightened Leadership Through Principles and Practice of Yoga.

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