Benefits: Identify the reason(s) you’re staying busy.
So That You Can: Recognize when you need to give yourself a break.
Go From Inspiration to Action With the Worksheet Below!
Are You Staying Busy to Avoid Your Life?
When someone asks you how you’ve been, what’s your typical response? Chances are it goes something like, “Good, good, staying busy you know. Whew, always busy!”
And, when you ask someone how they’ve been, do you find yourself phrasing it this way? “How’s it going? Have you been staying busy?”
Why in the world do we put so much emphasis on staying busy? Like it’s a badge of honor or something. Like whoever stays busy the longest will be given the honor of displaying an “SB” (not to be confused with SOB) emblem on their chest, Superman-style.
That question really isn’t too hard to answer though, is it? We Americans have glorified staying busy since the country was founded. And, as technology has made our lives “easier”, we’ve somehow turned our incessant need to stay busy into a perceived superpower.
Just think of all the people displaying this superpower in their social media feeds — telling you how busy they are traveling, doing home renovation projects, hanging out with friends, and even finding that perfect meal they just can’t help but post a picture of.
But the superpower flaunting doesn’t stop there. Think of the reality shows — especially the home renovation shows — that record people staying busy, barely meeting deadlines, and always facing that unexpected turn of events that means they have to stay even busier than anticipated.
And we don’t even need to point out all the ways our employers make sure that we stay busy — endless meetings and emails ring a bell? But . . .
What’s Behind Your Need to Stay Busy?
That’s what we’re going to work on figuring out today by discussing:
- When staying busy is okay and when it’s not,
- The real reason you want to stay busy (hint, the answer might be in the title), and
- How to recognize when you need to recover from staying busy.
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There’s Definitely a Time and a Place for Busyness
If you’re under 30, you should be staying busy, at least in my estimation. Yes, this is a huge generalization, so let me support this statement a bit.
This is the stage of your life when you’re either in school, working in an apprenticeship of some sort, or gaining the baseline skills you need for your chosen career. When you’re in school, you’re most likely managing your class load, a job, and a social life, i.e. staying busy. And, if you’re an apprentice, or the newbie at your company, you’re probably the dumping ground for all the projects no one else wants to do, and you might be expected to work extra hours — you’ll be staying busy. Or, you might be starting your own company, which will be super time consuming.
This is also the stage of your life when you might decide to start a family, and there are few things on this earth that will keep you busier than young children.
The point is, this is the stage of your life when you are supposed to be busy. You’re learning, growing, and gaining the experience that will give you leverage — leverage that will help you set boundaries around how you spend your time later in life.
When Staying Busy Becomes Damaging
Maybe you think you can stay busy without suffering any damaging effects. And that could be true; some people are wired to manage a busy life better than others. If you can honestly say that you’ve found a way to balance your time and set priorities so that you feel at peace, I applaud you, and I’ll talk to you in another post.
But, if you’re like me, you’re not in that boat quite yet. You’re still allowing other people’s expectations, opinions, and agendas to control your time. In return, you spend your valuable time on things that drain your energy, are not in your best interest, and could even be counterproductive — things like checking your email obsessively, jumping from one “emergency” to another, and attending yet another pointless meeting. Not to mention tending to all of those notifications that keep popping up on your phone.
This type of busyness is a behavior that will lead to stress, anxiety, depression, and resentment, among other harmful side effects. As Deliberate Thinkers who are committed to realizing our full potential, we have to recognize this pattern in our behavior so we can start setting boundaries that will allow us to rest and recover when needed. We’ll discuss what I mean by that, but first, it will be helpful to recognize . . .
The Reason(s) You’re Staying Busy In the First Place
Let’s get this out in the open right now so we can move on — our society teaches us to stay busy. There’s no doubt about it. It’s important to know that this is a force we’re up against, but it’s not okay to use this as an excuse for our behavior. We’re Deliberate Thinkers, after all, and we can make our own decisions.
So, taking all of the societal pressures out of the equation, what’s really driving your need to stay busy? See if any of these reasons ring true for you.
You’re experiencing FOMO,
or for those of us over 40, fear of missing out ?. You’re afraid of missing opportunities, whether they be personal or professional. So you say yes to everything, and that leaves your time spread pretty thin. Plus, not all opportunities are created equal, which means you’ll end up chasing opportunities that don’t add value or meaning to your life.
I’ve faced FOMO plenty of times in my life, and still do, and I know that it takes a lot of self-awareness to know when an opportunity is worth pursuing. You’re not always going to make the right choice — I could probably list a hundred opportunities I should have said no to. No big deal! But then you need to pay attention, know when it’s time to bow out, and be humble enough to say, “I was wrong about that one.”
You like the feeling of importance
that comes with being busy. You must be important if so many people want a piece of your time, right? Maybe, or maybe you’re just a means to an end — the thing that stands between them and their goals. Let’s face it, many of the people who demand your time couldn’t care less about how “important” you are. The real question you should ask yourself is — how important am I to myself?
If you don’t think you’re important, why would anyone else?
You’re trying to avoid your life,
or, rather, you’re trying to avoid facing all those inconvenient truths about yourself.
Brené Brown said it best:
We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.
It’s super hard to slow down for a moment and just “be”. Why? Because once we stop moving, all those unpleasant feelings we’ve been trying to avoid — anger, shame, disappointment, frustration, helplessness — are sure to rear their ugly heads. And no one wants to invite those feelings in when it’s so much easier to distract yourself by binge watching your favorite show, scrolling through your social media of choice, or even drowning yourself in your work.
But . . . as Dr. Joan Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist, pointed out:
Our experience of feeling capable in the world, of experiencing emotional strength, is directly tied to our capacity to both experience and move through those unpleasant feelings.
Or, in other words, to live the fulfilling life you were meant to live, you’re going to have to face and experience those unpleasant feelings by allowing yourself to slow down for a moment. And that leads us to . . .
Rest and Recovery
First of all — resting and being lazy are not the same thing. Somehow our culture has made them synonymous, but everyone needs rest to perform at his/her best. Yes, even you! And especially me. I tend to need more rest than other people do, and it’s so frustrating because I’m a very driven person. But, you gotta play the cards you’ve been dealt, right?
How can you recognize when it’s time to recover from staying busy? When it’s time to establish some boundaries around how you’re spending your time. While you might recognize the typical signs — fatigue, compulsive behaviors, getting sick a lot, headaches, stomach problems, etc. — there’s a subtle sign that you might be missing.
It’s time to rest and recover when you’re not taking your own advice. Wow! That’s a pretty powerful statement when you take a minute to examine it. I wish I could claim it as my own, but it’s not. ? Those words came from Jared Nichols, a business advisor.
For example, I’ve written plenty of posts encouraging you to take care of your body, manage your time, and to focus on progress not perfection. So if I find myself creating excuses for skipping my workout or if I find myself spiraling into a state of anxiety due to a self-imposed deadline — it’s time for me to rest and recover.
I also love this tip from Evan Carmichael. When you’re not sure whether or not you need to rest, notice how your reason for not taking action makes you feel. Does it make you feel guilty or regretful? Or, does it make you feel proud of yourself for being self-aware enough to know that you need a break?
I actually have a perfect example for this one. Last week, I was supposed to record a podcast episode with my co-host, Adam. But, I experience adrenal fatigue quite regularly, and there are days when I’m so fatigued that I can hardly think straight, let alone carry on a meaningful conversation on camera. And, of course, this was one of those days.
My first thought was to just push through it. I didn’t want to interrupt our recording schedule, and I didn’t want to let Adam down. But then I thought about what advice I would give Adam if the tables were turned. I decided to let Adam know what was going on and said we probably shouldn’t record that night. You know what he said? That he was proud of me for recognizing that I needed to take care of myself! And I was proud of myself too! ?
If you want to live the fulfilling life you were meant to live, you should take some time to really consider the question at hand — Am I staying busy to avoid my life? Or, am I staying busy because I have FOMO? Or because I like the feeling of importance? Or whatever else might be hiding behind your busyness.
The point is, you have to identify your reason for staying busy, and then decide if it’s a reason you’re okay with, a reason that you’re proud of.
You’ll also want to get honest with yourself about the consequences you’re facing, or will come to face, because of your need to stay busy. Are you willing to accept these consequences?
And, you can work on recognizing when you’re not taking your own advice, and then give yourself permission to rest and recover. (I’m saying this to myself as much as I’m saying it to you. ?)
The actions I’m suggesting aren’t going to be easy so be sure to take advantage of the worksheet I put together to give yourself a running start.
Click here for more posts with an “mental health” theme.
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And until next time . . . STAY CURIOUS!
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Sources & Inspiration
Why People Brag About Being Busy | Better | NBC News, posted to YouTube by NBC News on 4.03.17
The Busy Identity | Lexie Harvey | TEDxFurmanU, posted to YouTube by TEDx Talks on 4.08.16
The power of rest and reflection: Daniel Rubin at TEDxIDC, posted to YouTube by Tedx Talks on 12.09.13
Are You Addicted To Being Busy? | Leadership & Management Tips | Jared Nichols The New Futurist, posted to YouTube by The New Futurist on 12.15.19
Emotional Mastery: The Gifted Wisdom of Unpleasant Feelings | Dr Joan Rosenberg | TEDxSantaBarbara, posted to YouTube by TEDx Talks on 9.21.16