Updated: Mar 24
I would like you to pause for a moment, take a deep breath and count how many times a day you say ‘I’m busy’. Once you count how many times you say one of the most famous phrases, ask yourself how you feel when you say it.
Are you feeling energized or stressed out? Are you feeling all right (BTW: Have you noticed how ‘I’m busy’ is the new ‘I’m fine’?) or like there is never enough time for what needs to be done?
If being busy makes you energized, don’t worry. You are not alone, and frankly being busy can be great for your mental health. As long as you keep yourself busy doing things that really matter to you.
However, if you feel more stressed and less in control of your time, health, and life, we need to talk. Most likely chasing after several shiny objects, spreading your focus thin, and not finding the time to do tasks you planned to do will impact your mental health.
So, what it truly means when you say you’re busy? Why are you so busy? What is the difference between being busy and producing the results you want? Let’s find out, shall we?
But before we start, are you part of my community? Join my newsletter to get the latest action steps on how to eat a healthy plant-based diet, de-stress, manage your time better, prioritize yourself, and anything in between so that you INCREASE your energy, SAVE time and INVEST well in your wellness!
Why Are You Busy?
I am an active person, and I love keeping myself busy. I like to have a plan for the day (even if I’m on holiday!) and a list of tasks to accomplish. I like to know where I’m heading. This may seem a bit stressful for some, but it gives me peace of mind.
However, I rarely respond “I’m busy’.
I no longer subscribe to the glorification of busyness and frankly, I don’t feel the need for it anymore. I would like to invite you to challenge your view of busyness and glorification. Why?
Because being busy for the sake of glorifying how busy you are will leave you without having time for anything in your day and make you feel like you have no control over your life. You will feel depleted, stressed out, and overwhelmed.
But I get it. Being busy is trendy. We live in a productivity-obsessed age where it is expected to be busy all the time. The culture of being available with a click of a button is very appealing. The conventional meaning of offline doesn’t exist anymore.
Being busy is also assuring.
I remember days when I stayed busy because I thought that the busier I was, the more things I got to accomplish. The busyness gave me the feeling of motion and confidence that I was on track. It also was an excellent excuse not to deal with my emotions and what was going on in my life at that time.
Stop for a second and ask yourself if you are using business as your exit strategy. After all, when you are busy, there is no time to waste reflecting on what is happening in your life or taking steps to change anything.
The Glorification of Busyness
Let’s unpack why you want to feel busy. Yes, I said want to because many of us use busyness as a coping mechanism. You may even get addicted to being busy.
It is easy to blame the work schedule, the commitments you have, or society. But deep down being busy is a choice. And when you realize you are in control of that choice, you can do something about it.
Being busy is a balancing act.
Your life may be packed with activities, functions, and projects. You may even feel a bit stressed, but this type of stress gives you more excitement than overwhelm. You have the energy to keep going and are looking forward to it.
You keep yourself busy because it keeps you on track, gives meaning to what you do, and makes you feel alive. You keep yourself busy to get things done and move forward with your plans.
Yes, it is possible to be busy and feel that way.
At the beginning of the post, I mentioned that being busy can have a positive effect on mental health. After all, distraction is one of the best ways to occupy our mindset. When you are faced with challenging times, staying busy can get you through the day and even give you temporary relief.
So, if being busy can feel good, why do so many of us feel stressed, overwhelmed, and depleted?
The darker side of this coin is that you are hiding your emotions behind the badge of busyness. You simply keep yourself busy, so you have no time to stop and take a stock of your health, or life. After all, if you can’t see if there is a problem, there is nothing to fix!
Are you Productive?
If you find yourself feeling like there is never enough time to do all you need to do or are a little bit dissatisfied with the results you are getting, it is time to look at what you are getting done.
You may be keeping busy by adding more and more things to your day but not sustaining your focus. I used to pile up a task on top of another task until there was no time left in my day. And then I hit burnout.
The hard truth is that only because I was busy, it didn’t mean I was productive. Or that I used my time wisely.
Not long ago, studies in neuroscience showed that our brains are able to sustain focus for 90 minutes. However, the newest research shows that our focus time is getting shorter and shorter. It means you need to make the most out of any given time block to maximize your focus.
I no longer view being busy as a measure of what gets done.
There is a distinctive difference between busy and productive. You may run from place to place but not accomplish anything. You may micromanage every aspect of a project and take more on, but is it time well spent?
The big question here is if your busyness contributes to your productivity. If you look back at your day and feel like you didn’t accomplish anything, but are out of breath, then you were busy and not productive.
Busy vs Productive
I like to say that there is good busy and bad busy. The good busy will get you moving and will get you to produce the results you want. And the bad busy will drain your mental and physical energy.
You see, the biggest daily stressor is time. Many of us complain about lack of time, yet we keep adding more things to our plates. But do you know that according to Parkinson's Law work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion?
By the way, Parkinson’s Law is a great productivity hack!
Good busy is when you are productive and feel energized, uplifted, and happy even though you have lots going on. So, how to check if your busy is productive? Shifting your focus may be the way to go.
In addition, here are 3 easy ways to do it:
Narrow Your Focus
I find that if I don’t have a clear plan for the day then I get busy but won’t be as productive as I could be. If I don’t narrow my focus and pay more attention to what the next step should be, my day will be a rollercoaster.
There are simply too many things to do and too many distractions competing for our attention to stay productive. If you feel you don’t have control over your calendar or day, but you always seem busy, try to narrow down your focus to completing one thing at a time.
Being busy can easily make you feel overwhelmed. Neuroscience 101 teaches us that multitasking uses a lot of energy, so it doesn’t make us more efficient. When you try to do several things at once, you may feel like you are staying on top or even getting ahead of your schedule.
How would you feel if you found out that you spent all this time pursuing something that didn’t need to be pursued in the first place? Think about it, spreading yourself thin will make you feel busy, but it won’t get you to the finish line.
Will This Action Move Me Forward?
This is a question I love. This question can make all the difference and you need to keep asking it over and over again.
All tasks require time and energy, but not all tasks bring the needed results. So, before going on a hunt, ask yourself what results you want to get and if the action you are about to undertake gets you closer to your outcome.
If the answer is no, then don’t spend time on it. I know this is easier said than done, but you can’t afford to pursue things that won’t move you forward. There are only so many hours in a day!
The difficulty with this one is that our brain automatically goes for what is easy. This is a survival mechanism. But the more often you do it, the easier it will get.
Have the end in mind and you will find yourself smashing your goals.
Being realistic is probably my least favourite productivity check, but I learned the hard way why it is so damn important. You need to be realistic about your abilities, capabilities, strengths, and what can be accomplished in the time you have got.
Understanding that certain tasks take more time than others is key to planning your day and being productive rather than busy. I know you are a high achiever, but to achieve means to accomplish your task. So what do you have on for today, what resources do you require, and how much time have you got?
How to Stop Being Busy
If you have ever been busy, don’t worry. We are all busy at one time or another. The difference is if you are good busy or just busy for the sake of being busy.
I like keeping myself busy. But I don’t subscribe to the glorification of busyness. I want to see the results of my work. I want to feel accomplished at the end of the day.
If you keep busy but feel overwhelmed as the day slips from under you, I invite you to shift your focus. Stop being busy and become productive.
Put all your attention where it should go, assess each task, and ask yourself if it will move you forward toward the result you want to get. Certain things take time, so be realistic in allowing yourself the time you need to complete that task or project.
Now, wouldn’t you rather be productive and get more out of your day instead of being busy
Before you go, are you part of my community? Join my newsletter to get the latest action steps on how to eat a healthy plant-based diet, de-stress, manage your time better, prioritize yourself, and anything in between so that you INCREASE your energy, SAVE time and INVEST well in your wellness!
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