Is ‘busyness’ the new badge of honour?

How many times have you been to an event recently and asked someone ‘how they are?’ and they’ve replied ‘soooooo busy?’ Once upon a time people used to tell me how little sleep they needed a night but now this has fallen by the way side, perhaps to the success of Arianna Huffington’s book, and the busyness epidemic has taken over! Are we becoming a nation of headless chickens running from one thing to another and exhausting ourselves in the process or is it another way of justifying our existence? Research shows that the less busy we are, the more happy we are, and I’m up for that, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts, hints and tips!

As I ponder my relationship with ‘busyness’ I wonder if it is a throwback to my childhood? We never sat still for long and were seen to be resourceful and productive and this has continued into my adult life. There are never enough hours in the day especially as I’m a ‘don’t put off until tomorrow’ type of girl! Ray is often telling me to slow down and smell the roses and my stock response is to say that I relax through doing things. However, the more I self-coach, the more I wonder if ‘busyness’ is linked to one of my deep-rooted beliefs? I think I may have equated not being busy to be seen as lazy and so have never seen the point of having a good sit down as it isn’t very productive. In the past busyness has reassured me that I’m needed for something or someone and therefore what I’m doing is adding value somewhere.

So what changed? Well firstly, I got sick of hearing the busyness phrase spill out of my mouth! Secondly, I realised that I was becoming an all work and no play girl and thirdly, I hated being late for things, which was happening more and more due to the number of activities I was juggling.

I had to find a way to stem my busyness and get myself re-focused on what I wanted out of life. I decided to use the metaphor of the jar of life story about the stones and sand. If you put the sand in first and then the smaller pebbles, the big rocks won’t fit. However, if you start with the big rocks, you’ll find the pebbles and the sand will fit and there’s also some room for some water! This is like our lives. When we don’t prioritise or spend too much time on all the little things, we’ll never achieve the bigger stuff. This was like a light bulb moment to me. I always used to think that if I can just get these little things off my desk I will be able to have more time to focus on the bigger stuff, but of course, I was always burning the midnight oil and pushing closer and closer to deadlines which in turn made me feel more anxious. It also meant that I was starting to skip the things I loved doing and the things that I had to do were becoming a chore and tinged with a bit of resentment. And then I was reading an article from the Wall Street Journal and it said, the next time you find yourself saying ‘I don’t have time’ try saying instead ‘it’s not a priority’. That change of language helped me so much in changing the priorities!

In true coaching style I asked myself the following questions and then started working on the responses.

  1. What is your busyness stopping you doing and how does that make you feel?
  2. If you were to lessen your schedule, what would you be able to achieve instead?  How would that make you feel?
  3. What will happen if you don’t make any changes?
  4. What’s the first step you can take to make a positive change?

Once I’d thought about my responses, I realised that there were some activities that would really help me. I created a hints and tips list, which are noted below:

  • I’m a big list maker so I add everything to my list no matter how big and small.  It helps me to identify priorities easily.  I also have my stop doing list …. to focus my mind on the things that don’t make a difference
  • Having a good end of day routine means that I have clarity on my activities for the following day.  This has been instrumental in stopping me worrying as I know that I have everything noted down and don’t have to rely on my brain to remember.  Which it is prone to do at 4am!
  • Prioritise what matters.  Know your vision for the future as this will keep you on track and give you something to refer back to.  If you’re finding yourself being very busy, you can ask yourself whether the things you are doing are ultimately working towards your vision?  If they’re not either stop doing or find someone else to do them.
  • Understand your values as they will help you make better and more conscious decisions.  It took me quite a while to really understand my values.  However, I soon gained clarity when they were dishonoured!
  • When you know your strengths, you have clarity of the tasks and activities to which you add value.  Not being able to let go, or having a feeling that you need to do everything is not being efficient.  It will sap your resources and probably take much longer than someone who is the expert required.  Having clarity on your passions will also help your energy flow!
  • Stop face to face meetings.  If you need to have them, try stand up meetings instead.  People won’t hang around as long so you get some time back.  Even better, ask yourself whether you really need to attend or could someone else go in your place?  This won’t be the case for all meetings, but when research shows that executives think that 67% of meetings are unproductive, it does make you ask the question whether you need to be there!
  • Since reading James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, I’ve become a habit stacker!  I focus on a habit that I do daily and add another to it for example, sitting down with my first drink of the day I now read an article that I’ve put to one side for a quiet period.
  • I’m focusing on my language. When I hear myself saying I should do something, I ask myself if I need or want to do it.  Not because I’m being selfish, but because I want to make sure it fits with my priorities.
  • There’s also another side to the self-talk.  When you’re constantly telling yourself that you’re sooooo busy, your brain will hear the message and you will automatically start to feel overwhelmed.  When you practice giving yourself choices ie does it need to be done right now and by me, you will start to prioritise your activities differently.
  • And on a more pragmatic note I have a bag in the boot of my car for things that need dropping off or repairing.  This means when I pass the place in question, I’m not thinking if only I’d remembered to bring xyz with me.

Of course, if you want to have more clarity about how you are spending your busyness, you can audit your days for a week. That means from getting out of bed in a morning through to going to bed at night. Check how you are spending your time by taking a note in half hour increments. You may be surprised at what the audit reveals. As Thomas A Edison rightly said ‘Being busy doesn’t always mean real work. Seeming to do is not doing!’

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