When is the last time you mentioned how busy you are? Perhaps someone asked you how you were doing and you responded, “Busy.”
Our culture normalizes being constantly on the go. Sometimes, it feels like we’re all competing with one another to see who’s got the most to do and the least time to do it in. People brag about getting less sleep, having more projects and commitments, and getting more done in less time.
There’s just one problem: being busy all the time is unsustainable. Busyness isn’t just a state of being. It’s also a state of mind. And if you stay in that mindset for too long, you could face real professional and personal consequences.
Just because something has been normalized, doesn’t mean that it’s right. But, societal ideals play a big part in how we see the world whether they’re good for us or not. The normalization of busyness and overwork is a perfect example of this.
These days, many folks seem to have almost an addiction to maintaining a hectic pace. Plenty of people “humble brag“ about their chaotic work schedules and their routines. It’s as if some people are almost defined by their busyness. Many even feel guilty when taking time for leisure to the point that they struggle to be able to relax during their downtime.
Chronic stress diminishes your ability to focus and be productive. The American Institute of Stress has been conducting a survey since 1998 in an effort to better understand and measure stress and its impact on individuals. In addition to various health problems, they’ve equated stress with a significant drop in productivity levels. They concluded that job stress costs U.S. industry over $300 billion annually as the result of of the impact of associated effects such as diminished productivity, absenteeism, accidents and employee turnover.
When you’re stressed, you’re more likely to feel tired and scattered. This works against your ability to make good choices and be optimally productive at work. It’s as if you’re doing everything with a diminished capacity. So, it takes you longer to accomplish tasks and they may not be done with the level of skill and ability that you’d possess if you weren’t so busy and stressed.
Similarly, busyness impedes your ability to be your most creative and innovative at work. Keep in mind that these kinds of skills are increasingly important. As AI comes in and replaces workers who are doing more routinized or exacting work, the creative and collaborative tasks are left to the humans. So, it pays to keep these skills sharp as we move into a new and increasingly technologically complex decade.
Unfortunately, busyness and stress drain your ability to think outside of the box. Researchers have found strong negative correlations between stress and creativity. Put simply, the more stress you feel, the less you’re able to innovate. A 2002 study, for example, which analyzed the daily diary entries of folks working on creative projects, found that time pressure resulted in less creative results. Researchers have also observed actual changes in the brain.
“As ten-thousand studies have shown, when you are chronically stressed, you’re less able to be at your best,” Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist and author of Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time, told Forbes. “Particularly when you’re talking about a knowledge economy which places a high premium on creativity.”
It’s one thing to be less creative and productive at work. Those effects are bad enough. But, if they didn’t rouse you, the fact that being too busy also makes you less happy should get your attention.
It’s so easy to get used to being super busy. If you start to feel low, you might not even realize that your chronic busyness could be to blame. But, it really could be taking a toll.
Think about it this way: when your life becomes so busy that you hardly have time to enjoy it, much less take good care of yourself, you can get depressed. It’s really a pretty simple equation. You can’t go on this way forever — pushing yourself out into the world without taking any time to rest and recover. It only stands to reason that eventually you’ll start to feel a pull on your mood and your happiness levels when you routinely neglect yourself in order to “get things done.”
As Ferris Bueller reminded us, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
There’s actually some real wisdom in this fictional teenager’s sentiment. You have to take time to process, you have to stop and breathe once in a while, in order to really be present within your life and appreciate it. If you’re always racing from one thing to the next, you’re never taking the time to stand still and notice where you are right now.
Greats like Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin made some of their most famous discoveries when they were taking time away from their regular work. (Darwin was reading a book on population growth when the theory of natural selection occurred to him. And, Einstein was out for a walk when he came up with the theory of relativity.) Many highly successful individuals have known that slowing down and calming their minds helped them to be at their best.
If you aren’t taking time to slow down, breathe and process the things that are going on in your career and your life, you might be missing something really important. It pays to take the time to stop and look around once in a while.
Busyness can be self-perpetuating. Part of the reason for this is the normalization, and even veneration, of the state of being “so busy” in modern society. But, thinking that busyness and success are synonymous is a big mistake.
Our culture often depicts busyness as something associated with a high-power and high-status lifestyle. Consider the image of the busy businessman rushing down the street, parting the crowd with his outstretched briefcase while simultaneously talking on his phone or maybe checking his watch. Think back to the way teachers and other adults built you up for busyness when they explained how challenging an upcoming round of midterms were going to be, and how much time you’d better invest into studying if you wanted to pass. Finally, consider the way your peers talk about their own busy lifestyles. At first it might seem as through they’re complaining about the hectic pace they maintain. But, on another level, you can tell they’re sort of boasting about it, too.
All of this contributes to the confusion. Busyness and professional success are not the same thing. In fact, chronic stress can hold you back in your career. The truth is that good time management skills, and improved work-life balance, can help you to be happier, healthier and more productive at work.
Keep in mind that it may be harder to really understand and analyze how you’re spending your time when you’re in the thick of busyness. Researchers have found that, in reality, we often have more time than we think we do. And, workers often overestimate their number of logged hours at work, too.
So, a good first step might be to analyze the way you spend your time. For a week or so, log how you spend each hour. You may just find that certain activities are consuming way more time than they should. This analysis could help you begin to loosen the hold that being busy has on your life and schedule.
— Gina Belli
This article originally appeared on PayScale.
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