You are walking, hurrying, across the pavement. You need to get to the deli before it closes, or dinner is going to be stale bread.
The coat you just picked up from the dry cleaners keeps slipping off your arm. A brown bag filled with groceries bangs into your legs every few steps. Both add to your sense of no longer being in control of your life.
Swerving left and right to avoid bumping into them, you mutter vehemently at people getting in your way. Can’t they just saunter somewhere else?
Your phone rings. When you hear who it is, you wish you had let it go to voice mail. One of your brothers wanting help with redecorating his living room.
As if you didn’t already have enough on your plate.
You feel frazzled and overwhelmed almost all the time.
Yet you don’t dare to stop or even slow down because you have so much to do and so little time to do it all.
The time you were in control of your life seems ancient history, a long forgotten past that you can only dream about.
It’s not your fault.
Is the trancelike delirium of busyness seducing you?
If you feel constantly busy and stressed, there is a good chance you are buying into at least one of three beliefs:
1. Pedal to the metal for the medal
When you ask people how they are, the answer you hear most is “oh, you know, busy.”
Like being busy is the be-all and end-all of living.
Like if you are not busy, you don’t count.
So, of course, you want to be busy.
You want to feel you count, to feel you are important. You want that status symbol, that badge of honor, that being busy provides you in the eyes of your colleagues, friends, and family.
2. If there is no pain, there is no gain
The most successful people are engaged in a gazillion ventures and always adding more to their long list of achievements. And they still have time to play in the most desirable surroundings.
Are you thinking along these lines?
- Surely, they got there by hustling (which they did).
- Surely, they can enjoy their playtime because their hustling made them successful and that’s how they got the money to pay others to do their busywork.
- Surely, they enter into all those ventures to remain successful and be able to keep up their lifestyles.
Well, stop it.
This kind of “no pain, no gain” thinking is only serving to keep you in the pain of being busy all the time, and not getting you any of the gain you hope for.
Unless that is, you have a very clear, concrete picture of what that gain is and what pain you are willing to suffer for it. Including the pain of dropping what won’t get you there.
3. You’ll just do one more, really, just one
Ticking things off of your to-do list feels good. With every item you finish, you give yourself a delicious hit of dopamine.
“Yes! One more down. What’s next?”
You get into a flow, a trance-like state, almost a delirium. You don’t want it to end and so you keep going. Even to the point of being busy for the sake of being busy.
But, at what cost?
How busyness is killing you — and your productivity
Being busy, however, is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Are you in danger of dozing off at the wheel?
When you are constantly running around, squeezing a little more out of every waking hour and even sleeping fewer hours to get more waking ones, you are like a driver that doesn’t take breaks on a long journey.
The “drive 2 hours, rest 15 minutes” is applicable not just to road trips.
When you are busy all the time, and never let up, you are driving yourself to exhaustion. Mentally, emotionally and physically. Putting yourself at risk for a multitude of serious conditions as a result of the continual fatigue and stress you put yourself under.
Don’t get me wrong. Not all stress is bad, and stress is not all bad.
There is bad stress (distress) and good stress (eustress). For example, fun activities that get you excited are eustress. Enjoyable, for sure.
But you do need to recuperate. From both.
How a slow boat will get you to China, faster
While the most successful people do tend to be the busiest people, that does not mean that the reverse is true. That being busy will lead to success.
What the stories of the most successful people never mention, are the things that they say ‘no’ to. The things that would eat their time and not get them where they want to go.
Sure, you need to be busy to be successful, but being busy on just anything isn’t going to get you there.
You need to be busy with what will move you towards your goals.
Running all the time, without stopping to check you’re still heading the right way, will land you where you don’t want to be.
Taking a slow boat in the right direction beats driving a speedboat in the wrong direction. All the time.
Juggling is fun unless you’re not juggling for fun
When you are constantly busy, you’re likely keeping a lot of balls in the air, and switching tasks a lot.
It may feel like you are super efficient and getting a lot done.
Unfortunately, switching tasks kills the speed at which you accomplish them just like dragging a ball and chain would. When you have two tasks to perform and you switch between them you’ll finish them up to 25% more slowly!
Working on one thing at a time produces better outcomes and produces them faster.
Are you dancing the procrastination hustle?
Inactivity leaves you with little else but your own thoughts.
Facing yourself always feels a little scary. Your inner voice takes over. And is asking the hard questions that you don’t have a quick answer to.
Like “what happened to your dreams?”
Like “is this all there is?”
Like “how on earth do I get the time to work on what I like?”
It is far easier to start hustling again than to dig into the discomfort of facing yourself to find the answers. It’s why Tim Ferriss says that being perpetually busy is a form of laziness: lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.
Problem is, procrastinating on facing yourself will eventually bite you in the behind. There will come a time when you will be forced to face the discomfort of those questions. When you least expect it and when it is most inconvenient.
Be smarter. Face them now. It will save you heartache and gain you joy.
Perfect excuses don’t exist
Being busy is an easy and socially acceptable answer to deflect personal questions and undesirable demands on your time and energy.
When someone asks you how you are and you don’t feel like telling the truth, “busy” is the easy answer that immediately gets you off the hook.
“Busy” is also the socially accepted reason why you cannot meet a request for your time or effort.
If you are like most people, using “busy” as an excuse comes at a price: a tinge of guilt. And you feel compelled to sooth it by actually being busy so it feels less like an excuse and more like the truth. A catch-22 if ever there was one.
But wait, there is an upside to being busy?
Interestingly, being busy is a double-edged sword.
Being busy can actually be good for you.
It’s the time pressure of being busy that produces the stress and all the problems associated with it.
Thinking of yourself as a busy person without feeling the time pressure is good for you.
When you consider yourself a busy person, you increase your sense of importance and that increases your self-control. As a result, you are more likely to make better choices.
For your health — choosing healthier foods, taking time for exercise and relaxation — and for your dreams and goals — choosing to work on what helps bring them closer.
The trick is to feel like a busy person without running around like a headless chicken or resembling a hamster in its wheel: going nowhere fast.
Here’s how you do that:
Squash the busy bug like the annoying insect it is
Whenever you feel like there is not enough time, you have too much on your plate, there are too many demands being made upon your time and energy, your brain goes into overdrive.
The thoughts racing through your head feel like a swarm of annoying mosquitos buzzing around you, persisting in pestering you despite your efforts to shoe them away.
The answer is not to do things faster or more efficiently. The answer is:
- Stop, breathe, and lie down for 5 minutes.
Yes, you can sit, but I recommend lying down. It makes for a bigger context break between what you were doing and what you need to do in those 5 minutes:
- Reconnect with what’s most important to you.
For me, that would be feeding my brain, enjoying my pets and making their lives better, connecting with friends, getting enough R&R, and having a positive impact on other people’s lives.
- Ask which of your ‘have to’s, will make that better, today or tomorrow.
I can promise you that many urgent matters don’t come anywhere close to being a ‘yes’. Squash the ones that aren’t.
- Pick the most important (not urgent!) to-do you can act on right now that will impact today or tomorrow for the better.
- Get up and work on that. Slowly if you like.
Taking this approach will create many benefits:
- You will be more deliberate in what you do. You get to live instead of being lived.
- You will make better decisions. They will be less impulsive and driven by your mood, and much more in line with what you really want.
- As you put more importance on yourself and your need for recuperation, you will naturally improve your health.
- You will raise your productivity by doing less, focusing on what is important, and doing away with the productivity drain of task switching.
- You will have more time to appreciate and savor where you are, what you have accomplished and what you have.
It’s that last benefit I enjoy most.
Savoring the little things: the spring sun on my face, watching my cats play, enjoying my dog galavanting across a field, hearing birds sing, reading a book for pleasure, sitting and listening to a radio comedy. All while moving forward on my goals faster than ever before.
Accomplish more without breaking a sweat
Stepping off of the high-speed train of high-strung, time-pressured busyness can feel daunting, like letting go of the only thing that gives you a sense of importance.
But you can do it.
And you want to do it.
Because the fun thing is that slowing down will actually speed you up.
Getting off of the hamster wheel will get you the time to consider what you find important, to find the goals that you really want to pursue.
Imagine how much time you will have left when you drop everything you don’t really find important.
Imagine how much more quickly you can accomplish real results when you are undistracted by mindless activity that doesn’t serve anything but a sense of busyness.
Imagine what it would mean to you to achieve goal after goal after goal without even breaking a sweat.
All because you stopped long and often enough to get and keep clear on what’s important and enjoyable to you, and ditched all the busy work that kept you from it.
You now know what to do next time you feel frazzled, run down, or overwhelmed: stop and lie (or sit) for 5 minutes. Work out what is the most important thing you can do right now to move towards your goals. Then focus on doing that. Slowly, if you like.