I conducted a simple social experiment and asked the question, “How are you?” to several individuals of different ages, career fields, socio economic backgrounds, geographies, and perspectives. The people I queried all responded with some variation of how busy they were. Their responses were stress-filled and frustrated and their self-reported state of busy was clearly causing them angst.
Busy-ness is a dangerous trap that relinquishes your control to find meaning and fulfillment in life when you are stuck in the quicksand of being busy. I am on a mission to disrupt the busy-ness culture and focus on a life that is measured by meaning, value, fulfillment and other factors you can customize to celebrate your unique happiness and satisfaction.
Busy Doesn’t Mean Important – as a recovering workaholic, I finally learned the lesson that being busy doesn’t equate with significant or value-adding activities. Filling time with tasks that don’t have worth or meaning is something you can reverse with planning and self-reflection. Track the moments in your workday and non-work days to see how you are truly spending your time. Consider how you can be more selective with your time to focus on what really matters in your life and career.
Stop The Busy Brag – being busy is not a badge of honor and we must reverse this dangerous cultural phenomenon by resisting the urge to brag about how busy we are. The busy brag is pervasive and you can be a role model for others and share what gives you meaning and fulfillment instead of defaulting to telling others how busy you are. Start by actively listening since when you hear a busy bragger, it will help you avoid the urge to chime in.
Workplace Revolution – some workplaces perpetuate the workaholic culture and praise the busy brag. This is not healthy or sustainable and often leads to a revolving door for talent that is neither cost-effective, nor morale boosting. To disrupt an antiquated workplace model, leaders must set an example and be willing to break or reinvent the HR mold.
Innovative companies like Netflix and Virgin Group are having great success offering unlimited vacation time. It has helped them attract and retain top talent and avoid a workaholic culture while still demanding high productivity and results from their talent pool. Accountability lies with the individual employee.
Leaders must have candid conversations with employees to encourage them to take time off to rest, rejuvenate, and experience the health benefits that come with time away from work. Setting an example by not emailing, texting, or calling after regular business hours will help create and maintain a healthy work environment with lasting results for productivity and retention.
The Longer Work Week – Gallup conducted an August 2017 survey that revealed both professional/executive and white and blue-collar employees worked slightly under 50 hours a week between 47 and 49 hours respectively. Since the 40 hour work week has expanded and we know with peak seasons, special projects, and unique workplace demands – the work week often requires more than 50 hours a week. There has to be some room to give to aid the ebb and flow.
Flexibility and working remotely or virtually can give employees the opportunity to customize the non-peak project times to create a schedule that works best to honor what they need to be productive and healthy.
Busy Isn’t Always Productive – being busy just for the sake of face time or visibility in your workplace does not promote a healthy or wise culture for advancement and productivity in an organization. The concept of working smarter, not harder is not new and if organizations adopt these principles it will foster productivity, efficiency and overall satisfaction on the part of the worker.
Sprints, for example – focused and intense work sessions to accomplish a task or goal are becoming mainstream beyond the high tech organizations where this work style was born. Consider how you can hunker down and get work done during your unique sweet spot time of day. Then use the other time to recharge, tackle less intense tasks and give your brain a chance to reboot. Your creativity, attention span and productivity will soar. This also works outside of work.
Don’t Forget to Play – not a single person in my informal social experiment told me they were busy playing or having fun. Adults have lost the ability to play with reckless abandon like children. This is one of the best ways to boost creativity, engage your brain, and release stress.
Consider how you can re-introduce play into your life daily. I’m not talking about exercising that comes with a goal or is part of an existing regimen. How can you play with no agenda and revel in what might be silly, effortless, and fun?
Savvy professionals will also incorporate playtime at work to encourage brain breaks, stimulate in-person communication amongst colleagues, and add a bit of levity to a stressful workday.
Being Still, Not Idle – as a high-energy person, I used to find it difficult navigating down time. I would fill the time with things to keep myself busy and this exacerbated my stress because I was not comfortable being inactive.
While I am still working on being mindful and adding moments to my admittedly short meditations, I am becoming more comfortable being still. I am resisting the urge to find something to busy myself and I am relishing the moments of calm, quiet and stillness to reflect. Being still does not mean I’m lazy but it has opened up an opportunity to choose how I spend the unscheduled moments and give myself permission not to fill time with busy bunk.
Work Martyrs and Workaholics are Obsolete – as a Gen X professional, my career role models were driven and ambitious Baby Boomers, many of which worked themselves into debilitated health. My new normal is focusing on being a high achiever who can be results driven and without guilt, enjoy the benefits of down time.
Suffering is optional and modern careerists have a choice. Busy-ness is not a badge of honor. A significant life is not one to fritter away on meaningless tasks that bring stress and drudgery.
Join me in the quest to abolish the busy brag and focus on a life and career with meaning, value, and joy. Don’t forget to add playtime to your day and reach out to your accountability partners for support and encouragement.
Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the 2nd edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Ellevate Network, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. She hosts and produces an online show: Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women on YouTube. Caroline also hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life - on iTunes and SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter.