If someone asked how your day was going, what would be your knee-jerk reaction? If you're a member of the American workforce, there's a good chance your immediate response would be a single word: "Busy!" But in many cases, these lamentations about our jam-packed schedules amount to little more than a humblebrag about how important we are (so many things to do and people to see!). And according to comedian Mindy Kaling a conversation about how busy and stressed we are isn't really conversation at all.
"No one ever wants to hear how stressed out anyone else is, because most of the time everyone is stressed out," Kaling writes in "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?" "Going on and on in detail about how stressed out I am isn’t conversation. It’ll never lead anywhere. No one is going to say, 'Wow, Mindy, you really have it especially bad. I have heard some stories of stress, but this just takes the cake.'"
Busyness has become something of a badge of honor -- a way to hint at our own relevance and superior productivity without saying it in so many words -- but in reality, constant busyness may be a sign of just the opposite. There's plenty of evidence to suggest that if you're busy all the time (and not giving yourself a chance to rest and recharge), you're very likely doing something wrong.
Here five reasons to try to let go of excessive busyness -- or at least stop telling people how busy you are.
It could be harming your productivity.
Too much busyness can easily prevent you from actually getting things done. When we fill our days up with one task after another and frequently multitask -- rarely giving our full focus to the task at hand -- it can keep us from doing any one thing to our best ability. In other words, quantity takes precedence over quality.
Working unceasingly and without substantial breaks has been shown to be an ineffective way to master a task. Studies in Berlin in the 1990s on young violin players -- looking at the daily practice habits of elite players (those who were likely to become professionals one day) as compared to average players -- yielded some surprising data. The elite players weren't more successful because they practiced more. Both groups on average spent the same amount of time practicing each week. And whereas the average players spread their practice out through the day, the elite players worked in two intense periods of deliberate activity each day, followed by down time. The elite players were not only more relaxed, but they slept an extra hour each night, writer Cal Newport notes.
It could hinder your communication and connection with others.
According to Nell Minow, co-founder of The Corporate Library, the word "busy" can be "profoundly toxic" to both our careers and our personal lives. When someone asks how we're doing and we answer "Busy," Minow argues, it's a statement of our own self-importance and the relative lack of importance of the person we're talking to, which automatically precludes the possibility of authentic interaction.
"I promise that if you eliminate this word from your life, you will instantly, permanently and powerfully be more conscious about your choices and more effective in your communication with others," Minow wrote in a recent Huffington Post blog, "How 'Busy' Became A Toxic Word."
You might be suffering from a bad case of Time Deficit Disorder.
Do you feel busy and frantic all day? Get anxious just looking at all the blocked-out slots on your Gmail calendar? You might have a case of the unofficial but all-too-real Time Deficit Disorder (also known as "time famine"). If you're feeling constantly pressed for time, the best remedy may be the most unlikely one: Giving more of your time away to others. A 2012 study from Yale and Harvard researchers found that those who are more eager to devote some of their time to helping others are less likely to feel that time was their "scarcest resource."
Another solution? Schedule time into your schedule to do nothing -- a strategy LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner calls the "single most important productivity tool" he uses. Weiner says creating meeting-free "buffers" in his day affords him the time he needs to think strategically about the company's big picture.
It could be a veil for underlying laziness.
We tend to think of being busy as the opposite of being lazy, but the two qualities may be more connected than we'd like to think. If you're constantly busy, there's a good chance that you're expending a great deal of energy on tasks that may feel urgent -- but aren't actually all that important. Viewing busyness as a virtue actually keeps us from doing meaningful work, according to iDoneThis COO Janet Choi, and in this sense, busyness is a form of laziness.
"It’s easy, even enticing, to neglect the importance of filling our time with meaning, thinking instead that we’ll be content with merely filling our time," Choi told Fast Company. "We self-impose these measures of self-worth by looking at quantity instead of quality of activity."
You may not be managing your energy well.
Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project and author of "The Way We're Working Isn't Working," knows better than anyone that excessive busyness can be a destructive force in our work and lives. We've been taught that "more, bigger, faster" is always better. But this "volume is God" mentality, Schwartz explains, presumes that we have unlimited resources -- which, of course, we don't.
Renewal is actually a way to increase our capacity to be more effective, Schwartz explains, allowing us to get more out of the time we put into a task. The time spent on a task is not the same as the energy spent on a task, and taking time to rest and recharge can help you to get more done by allowing you to be more intentional with your energy -- so when you're relaxing, you're really relaxing, and when you're working, you're fully engaged with work.
"Renewal is not for slackers," Schwartz said in June at The Huffington Post's conference, "Redefining Success: The Third Metric." "Renewal is a way in which to increase your capacity to be more effective."