Here’s a philosophical question for you. If you saw someone who has been dashing around their office all day, working extra hours and generally running themselves into the ground with work, would you congratulate them and remind them how fantastic it is that they are that busy? Or would you maybe tell them to slow down and take a break before they burn out?
The fact is that despite the negative views on the ‘burning the candle at both ends’ approach to work, we still glorify being busy. When you can answer someone’s ‘how are you?’ with “I’m very busy’, it’s seen as a badge of honour. It’s true that most of us running our own businesses would rather have too much business than not enough, but that doesn’t mean we should be piling on the work even when we’re drowning in it. Being too busy is now a badge of honour, and this has harmful effects on our lives. It’s what causes us to work crazy hours, sleep with our phones, sacrifice our health and wellbeing and even miss important moments with our families. I think it’s important to remember that there are no prizes for working the most hours per week.
Personally I think that Tim Kredier summed up the popular opinion of ‘business’ in his book ‘The Busy Trap’. He points out that, in modern society ‘being busy is a virtue, so people are terrified of hearing they may have empty time. It’s like being told you’re obsolete’. In other words, if you’re not busy, you’re useless.
But What Does Being Busy Actually Mean?
As with all definition questions, let’s start with the dictionary. The good old OED defines busy as ‘being actively and attentively engaged in work or a past-time’. So, no matter how much you have on your to do list, how often would you say you are actively engaged and attentive? We have changed the meaning of ‘busy’ so often over the years, that it now means ‘doing reasonably well and have a fair amount to do. Or, as the Urban Dictionary refers to it, ‘attempting to seem important, and not being shy about it.’
But, if we take the term ‘being busy’ at it’s literal definition, then we are constantly focussed and highly driven in our tasks, and those tasks just never stop. I have 1 main problem with this concept. No human on earth is 100% focussed all day, every day on the tasks at hand. It’s just not how our brains or bodies are designed. If we were, then we would never have coffee breaks, lunch or those chats about what we did at the weekend. We would just be work drones.
Let’s Take The Glory Away!
Instead of taking the length of your to do list as a measure of success, instead let’s start measuring our success by what really matters. After all, at the end of our lives we all become the same dust, so our success should be measured by how much joy and influence we had in the world. At Eleven Eight, we have 3 top tips to do away with the ‘busywork syndrome’ and start balancing your life and enjoying a pleasantly buzzing work life.
In a lot of societies, success is measured by how much money or power you have. This is the attitude that spurs people into this ‘busy’ spiral and can be very detrimental to your productivity. So choose another measure for success that isn’t related to how many hours you work, but more about the productivity of what you actually do.
Take A Digital Detox
We are constantly bombarded by the digital world. Emails, notifications, phone calls. Even during intimate or family occasions, it’s now common to see someone with their eyes glued to their phone. So take some time to turn the phone off and spend some real time with the people you care about. After all, that email will still be there tomorrow morning.
Burnout might sound like a rare and frightening thing, but the fact is it’s more common than you think. Burnout, stress and depression are worldwide problems affecting some of the world’s largest empires and cultures, including the UK, America, China and Germany. Just remember, working harder doesn’t necessarily mean better results. In fact, working all hours at an accelerated rate can actually have the opposite effect.
So here’s a challenge. The next time you run into someone at a networking event and they ask how you are, try and respond with anything other than ‘busy’. Instead, talk a bout the tings you’ve been doing, and think about how ‘rushed off your feet’ you really feel, and see if there is a better way to manage your time to feel comfortable and relaxed with your workload.