I recently read an interesting article by Abigail Ireland (An executive performance and business coach) and a lot of what she said, really resonated with me – it got me thinking that I am guilty of falling into the busy fool trap.
How many times have you used the word ‘busy’ over the last few weeks? Whether you’ve said it or felt it, being busy is something we can all relate to – particularly at the moment. But how many times do you use this word in jest? Like you say ‘I am good thanks’ when somebody asks how you are doing, even though you may be having a terrible day. I grew up being encouraged to think positively and create the path I wanted to follow…You become what you think you are!
I have always believed that one of my strengths is the ability to effectively multitask at work, in my personal life, or both, together. I can complete a work project, take a phone call, think of a list of 101 things I need to get from the store on the way to collecting two children from different places….and so it goes on. I was almost disappointed to read that studies prove that multitasking damages our ability to pay attention, recall information or complete activities to a high standard, or as effectively as if we had focused on one thing at a time. In the majority of workplaces, there is an overbearing expectation to always be contactable, or available for every meeting and to squeeze in as many tasks as possible into one day. An abundance of technological tools is also taking its toll, with people available on email, chat, mobile devices and other communication channels, both in and out of the workplace.
Interestingly, a 2018 study at Stanford University found that “heavier media multitaskers exhibit poorer performance in a number of cognitive domains”. They also had lower accuracy and slower responses than those who focused on one thing at a time. On a scarier note, research conducted at the University of Sussex indicated that multitasking actually changed the physical structure of the brain, reducing grey matter density in regions relating to cognitive, nociceptive, sensorimotor, emotional and motivational processes.
The curse of being busy also has an impact on our overall demeanour and physiology. While some may perceive the term in a positive light, it also carries a number of negative connotations. Other words one might associate with busyness include stress, panic, overwhelm, rushing and scattered. Our minds are directly linked to our physiology and behaviour; so, you can imagine how our bodies react when sent ‘busy’ signals by our brain. We may swing into fight or flight mode, leading to an increased heart rate, muscle tension, shallow breathing and an injection of stress hormones into our system.
At this point, we need to engage in a self-awareness exercise. We need to stop what we’re doing (as difficult as that may be), reflect and work out what our priorities are. The process of regularly reviewing and resetting our priorities is the key to having better control over our time and subsequently, our lives.
There are three things that make high performers stand out when it comes to managing their schedules. Top performers:
Have clarity on what’s important to them and to the cause(s) they serve.
Plan in advance and do not get distracted by ‘noise’ that could derail them; and
Are not afraid to say no to people or activities, in order to keep them on track or keep them sane.
Reflect on your life outside of work. If you start to see your friends and family as things getting in the way of work, it may be time to pause, draw a line and reconsider your priorities.
Decide whether you are busy because you have too much to do or because you are not being productive. Once you determine this, you can develop strategies to improve the situation, one item at a time. For example, you may need to say ‘no’ more often and create tighter boundaries. Or you may simply need to be more disciplined when working through your task list, rather than procrastinating or getting lost on time wasting activities. Knowing your end goal and the steps to its achievement will help stop you procrastinating and being busy for no benefit.
Accept that being busy is not something to be proud of. In fact, it is a flaw as it highlights that we are perhaps occupying ourselves to avoid something or to give the impression that we are adding value. If you use the word ‘busy’ a lot to describe your life, try substituting it with ‘productive.’ Having a productive day has a far more positive ring to it than, I have been so busy all day. If the productive angle doesn’t quite ring true, then you may need to reconsider what you are ‘busy’ spending your time on.
It really is your responsibility to manage your busyness.
“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”
Thomas A Edison