Quit Riding the Busy Train

You’re probably too busy to even read this article

Photo by Asa Rodger on Unsplash

Chances are, you’re probably too busy to read this article. Perhaps you’re riding a five-cup coffee bender because who doesn’t chug caffeine in order to survive the workday? You may have canceled plans with friends or loved ones because the line to get into your office is longer than the DMV. Inbox zero was a fond memory in 2013, and did you mention that you’re so busy?

There was a time when one’s wealth was measured by their spare time. Money gave you the freedom to take vacations and spend leisurely weekends with family and friends instead of plugging away at the office or shop. Being rich meant working less.

Not anymore. Busy has become a status symbol. Now, if you’re a workaholic, you’re considered desirable because people equate ambition and competence with being busy. In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, workers who brag about being overworked are signaling how much they and their skills are valued and in-demand. Now, instead of showing off your new car or watch, you’re flashing your overflowing inbox and packed calendar.

The busy phenomenon has shifted the definition of success. Have you looked at other small business owners who are busier than you and wondered why you’re not riding the same train? Suddenly you start thinking that you’re not ambitious enough or perhaps there’s something wrong with your business. Soon, you start trading your productivity and well being for sleepless nights. You’ve become the Energizer Bunny of small businesses, yet you’re no further along from where you started.

60% of workers suffer from work-related stress that costs U.S. businesses $30 billion a year in lost workdays. We end up wasting valuable time doing things that are not important because busy makes us feel more productive according to research from the University of Chicago.

Bottom line: our brains are not wired to multi-task — the more work we stuff into our day actually trains our brain to be more unproductive.

We’re breaking down five ways that being busy can cripple your busy and how to break out of the rat race.

1. Busy shortchanges your customers: When you’re busy, you tend to forget all the superior service details that set you apart from your competitors — the small touches that make for a memorable customer experience. As a result, your customers aren’t getting the attention they deserve and critical parts of your job risk falling through the cracks.

2. Busy hurts your health: Your business is reliant on your health and wellbeing, and even if you have a team in place and can delegate tasks, you need to be on top of your vision and long-term growth strategy. Studies show that we’re taking fewer vacation days and working longer hours. The long hours, sleepless nights, and stress wreak havoc on your health.

3. Busy crushes team morale: From not having the time to coach and mentor your employees to scheduling too many useless meetings (71% of meetings are considered unproductive!) and check-ins, your busy behavior is a morale crusher. When you’re busy your stress level goes into overdrive. Guess who gets the brunt of it? Your team! Your team absorbs your frenzy and that impacts the quality and productivity of their work creating a domino effect of mistakes that could cost your small business big.

4. Busy can lead to burnout: In order to grow your business, you need to be working ON your business rather than IN it. So if you’re too deep in the day-to-day and creating more work for yourself to appear busy, you lose sight of the big picture. And burnout can spiral your business out of control and halt growth in its tracks. Don’t be stuck in the now — take a step back and focus on the road ahead.

5. Busy cripples creativity: Have you ever noticed that you get the BIG BUSINESS IDEAS when you’re in the shower or taking a walk or spending time with your kids? There’s a scientific reason behind this. Neurologists studying brain scans discovered that our biggest A HA! moments occur when our brain is at rest. Creativity takes a back seat when you’re constantly busy and rest puts it in the driver’s seat.

Now that you know overwork can crush your small business, here are three ways to break free of busy:

1. Hit the pause button: Slow down, take a breather, rest, and reset. Take stock of your priorities and what really matters. Start to frame time not in terms of activity, but by priority. Try switching out the phrase “I don’t have time to go to the doctor” with “Going to the doctor isn’t my priority.” Evaluate if changing your language puts you on pause. Then you’ll start to notice how “not having time” has been your go-to for everything. Only then you’ll be able to separate the things that are unproductive and useless with that which matters.

2. Shout ‘no’ from the rooftops: Only take on projects and tasks that make you shout YES. If it doesn’t move you, it likely won’t move your business. Being selective about what you take on creates space to focus on what will move you and your business forward.

3. Track and guard your time: You can use free tools like Timely or Harvest to track how you’re spending your day. We often don’t realize how much time we’re wasting until we look at the data. Track your time for two weeks and review the results. Determine what actions have moved your business forward and discard that which doesn’t. Schedule time in your calendar for you. That may sound woo, but it’s important to reserve chunks of your day because it creates the same level of importance in your calendar as meetings. Whether it’s a half hour a day or an hour a week, set time aside to focus on the big picture.

The cult of overwork is a façade. Being busy creates the myth of constant progress, but motion isn’t progress. The measure of your worth isn’t your personal velocity. Your business is more important than satisfying other people’s perception of success.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +427,678 people.

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