Busy Business Man On The Run

Avoiding the busyness trap

Why your 'busy-brag' may not always be productive

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
4 minute read
Busy Business Man On The Run

When the pandemic first hit, many experienced a work-life awakening that prompted them to join a global crusade to slow down a bit.

Fast-forward to today and complaints about being too busy and working all the time have once again become so widespread that most of us do it without blinking an eyelid.

Busyness has become the number one status symbol of our times even though the consequences of an overworked lifestyle are well understood.

Our renewed love affair with busyness seems to be driven by an ill-conceived belief that all busy people possess many admirable attributes.

Those qualities include high levels of productivity, exceptional competence, overflowing levels of energy and an ability to work under enormous pressure.

Attributes like these and others put busy people in demand in the current job market and permit them certain bragging – and complaining – rights.

Telling others they are busy or complaining that life is extremely hectic seems to make people feel good about themselves, particularly when they use their busyness to enthusiastically signal their value to others.

As a case in point, in the past if someone happened to ask a busy person “how are you?”, the go-to response was “fine”, “I’m well” or “I’m doing okay”.

Today, busy people are more likely to reply in a seemingly boastful fashion with “crazy busy”, “on the run”, “so hectic”, “flat out” or “my diary is chokkas”.

Those responses are, of course, code for “you should be totally impressed with me”.

While many might wear their busyness as a badge of honour, this brooch comes with a number of flaws.

Busyness is more an addiction than a sign of status or any admirable qualities. Many mistake being busy with being productive, even though the two are almost opposites on a continuum.

Busyness is a bit like going on a pub crawl. You dart from one watering hole to another and never really get to appreciate the full experience offered by any venue. You start sipping your drink only to end up having to throw it back in a rush when the bell rings to signal the move onto the next venue. Things can get messy fast.

It is the same with busyness, which is about packing too many things into a short timeframe. Many jobs are not completed, some are forgotten altogether and others get done but not well. And the whole time your mind gets scrambled as you try to juggle multiple tasks.

Busy people have multiple priorities, adopt a more-is-best approach and say yes to almost everything they are asked to do or be involved with.

Productive people, on the other hand, have few priorities, follow a less-is-more mantra and are far more considered in agreeing to take on or become involved in something.

The point is you can be “crazy busy” on a day-to-day basis and achieve absolutely nothing while if you are productive you will be able to showcase the results.

It is not just the mistaken links between busyness and productivity that are problematic.

A more disturbing take on busyness is that some become very busy to mask their loneliness. They ensure every hour of the day is booked so as not to experience or expose the emptiness that can go with their predicament.

It is also the case that some of us embrace busyness because we do not want to disappoint our colleagues and friends by saying “no”. Yet when we become busy and overwhelmed we end up dropping the ball on some of the things we had agreed to do – and disappoint anyway.

And some of us use the cover of busyness as job security. After all, we believe busy souls are the last to be shown the door when business goes backward.

Ironically, it is not those working three part-time jobs or doing back-to-back shifts in our emergency services who will tell you how busy they are. Those people will tell you they are worn out, tired or exhausted.

Being busy and bragging about it appears to be limited to those in regular jobs – either those with their own personal career ambition who put themselves under pressure or those who fear what they will have to face in its absence.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic many reached the sobering understanding that working all the time was dysfunctional while becoming part of a society full of workaholics was far from desirable.

Sadly, we have already started to boomerang back to our old way of thinking that someone’s worth is measured by their busyness.

While it might seem odd, we need to place more value on the opposite of being busy – being idle. Just like we need an optimal level of sunlight for our health, all of us need a certain a level of idleness to recharge our batteries.

If you are afflicted with the busyness bug, there is a solution that requires you to remove just one item from your to-do list to free up some time: stop telling everyone how busy you are.