The cult of busyness
If you want to tackle your own part in the ‘busy-ness’ epidemic, then the first thing to ask yourself is: what is this constant busy-ness bringing you? What is it that’s driving you to fill every moment of your time, volunteer on that board, write this book, learn that language, etc etc?
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
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Hi there and welcome back to the podcast. Now, this week I wanted to talk about not just a syndrome but an epidemic and this epidemic is the busy-ness epidemic. This idea that every time someone says, “How are you,” you say, “Oh, I’m really busy.” Now, this may be unthinking or it may be a bit of a sort of humble brag because it’s really a mark of social status to say, “Oh, I’m so busy.” Now, I don’t think we’re consciously trying to impress people, it’s just an innate thing that’s become very natural in our society. “Oh, I’m so busy. So much work.”
Now, look, the reality is that, and I may have said this before, I’ve read studies that say we only do about two or three hours of productive work in a normal office day.
Let’s face it, in those two or three hours, I don’t want to, I guess, be too critical of the amazing work you’re doing, but most of us, and if you’re a doctor or an ambulance medic, whatever they’re called, or any of these wonderful things that you’re doing, a nurse and so on, then you are saving lives. Most of us are not. In our corporate jobs, we’re working on PowerPoint decks, we’re in strategy meetings, we’re doing product launches and so on.
So, to say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so busy,” unless, I would say, and this is my own judgement particularly, we’re actually, I’m so busy saving lives or working on penguins surviving in the Arctic, whatever it is, or preventing climate change, that’s completely my value judgement again. But unless we’re doing something really that incredible, then actually is it so impressive that you’re busy and is it the most exciting, interesting thing that you want to share with people that you’re busy?
Again, without being critical of people who’ve retired, I’m sure we all have that retiree friend who is constantly saying, and maybe it’s your parents, grandparents, whatever it is, saying, “Oh, I’m so busy. I’ve got so much work to do.” And as a non-retiree who has a full-time job and children and all these hundreds of other things, it’s difficult to see how someone who has literally no obligation, at least from a work perspective, which generally has taken up 40 or more hours of our week in a full-time job, it’s very difficult to see how they can be so busy.
So, I can hear already in what I’m saying that I’m judging and I think we all judge each other and I want to put that aside for a moment. However, what I’d like to encourage you to do is think about, what is this busy-ness epidemic doing for you as an individual. I know certainly for me and for many of my clients this sort of, I do therefore I am, if I’m going to sort of bastardise the Descartes saying that I think therefore I am, I do therefore I am, is very damaging. We have this kind of hyper achiever focus, and I’ve talked about the good girl syndrome before of having to always be busy, always be doing things where human doings rather than human beings is another one of those pithy kind of little expressions I’ve heard as well.
So, why on earth has that happened? What is that giving us? What is the damage that’s having on our health, on our relationships and so on? So that’s what I’d like to explore today with a bit of a lengthy entry there of criticising people for saying they’re busy. Don’t mean to label anyone at all, but maybe you can relate to this. Certainly I would like to come up with something more interesting to say to people than, yeah, I’m okay. Or yeah, I’m really busy with work at the moment. Actually am working on this really exciting project. I’m working on this new book or, oh, you know what? We’re looking at where we’re going to go travelling later in the year or something. I’m sure there are so many more interesting things to say in your life than being busy.
But more importantly than what we’re saying to other people is what you’re doing and feeling yourself. So I want to talk you through a few aspects of this, which I think are important and hopefully will help you a little bit. Now, this is something that will take time. It’s a massive shift in how we think and are. But hopefully if you listen carefully, maybe less than a couple of times take some notes and really reflect on how you can apply this, this can over time really give you a shift and really liberate you in some sense.
So the first thing, and I’ve sort of been poking at that a little bit already, is what is this bringing you? Because it’s so easy to say, “Get over it,” but it’s much harder to break a habit that’s deeply ingrained for a reason. And the question is, what is that reason for you? So, why is it that you’re clinging onto always to being busy? This addiction to checklists, ticking boxes, and so on. Oh my gosh, you have done so much today. Filling every moment of our time, “I’m going to volunteer on this board, I’m going to write this book, I’m going to learn this language, I’m going to do X, Y, Z.”
So, really having honest look on, okay, am I avoiding something difficult or painful?
Is this a form of procrastination on a very small scale? Every morning it’s very much easier for me to just reply to a few emails and do a bit of copywriting for my social calendar, which yes I do need to do. That’s much easier than say taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture strategy or starting a new strategy of, in my case pitching media outlets, which I haven’t been doing before, or starting a new exercise routine and we’ll talk about this next week in terms of how you can become more disciplined and how you can introduce new habits. All those things are harder to do than to do something that I’ve been doing forever and they’re sort of easier, less so. It’s very easy to just tick things off your list. Is that why you’re doing it? Is it just easier so you’re avoiding something that’s harder? It’s a form of procrastination.
Is it because it’s easy just to go full steam ahead rather than taking a step back and looking at what you really want because maybe it’s really scary. Maybe you’ll find, you know what? The things that you’re working on right now aren’t what you really want to do and you’ll have to make lots of changes and that is uncomfortable. You have to get out of your comfort zone. You have to give things up. You have to work really, really hard. Are there things on your list that shouldn’t even be on the list in the first place and aren’t getting you to where you want it to be, in which case, as thrilling as it is to tick things off your list, you’re not actually getting anywhere.
And importantly what happens when you’re not busy? How does that feel? Is there a sense of emptiness, loneliness, unhappiness? Again, maybe it’s something you’re avoiding because as soon as you have a day of, “Oh, I’m not busy, I’m not doing lots of things,” you feel like you should be busy. Maybe you’re ill and actually all you need to do is rest and somehow you can’t quite do that. You feel like you should be on the computer, you should be doing this, that and the other. In the office maybe you have a down day or you don’t have a lot of challenges at the moment in your role and you feel like, “Oh, they’re paying me and I really must do a good job. So I’m just going to sit here and shake and do things.” Just busy work, which isn’t actually moving ourselves forward.
So really explore, first of all, what is this busy-ness giving you?
What is the benefit you’re getting from it? Because before we let go of this, it’s all, again, very easy to give you some practical tactics moving forwards, but if you don’t understand what purpose this is filling, fulfilling for you now, you won’t be able to replace it with something else. So, really explore why is this busy-ness, this I do therefore I am something you’re clinging to. What are all these projects? What is filling your calendar zone bringing you and what is it helping you to perhaps avoid?
Now, having said that, and that is something I’d like you to spend more time reflecting on than just these couple of minutes it’s taken me, so either pause and have a think about it now or meditate on it later. Have a thing when you go for a run, a bath, come back to it later. But some practical tips as well. Of course I want you to review your to do list and importantly question the shoulds. So, it’s so easy to say I should be doing this, I should be doing that and just add these things to an endless, never-ending to do list.
Now, a couple of practical tips. They’re really practical, detailed things. One is, and I may have talked about this before, the five whys. This is something I learned back in my time at Procter & Gamble and it can be used for a whole host of things. But here I’d like you to really question, okay, I need to do X. I have to post every day on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook. I have to do X. I have to volunteer on this board. I have to take my daughter to whatever it is.
Ask yourself the five whys. Why do I have to do this? Why do I have to post every day on social media? Okay, to be consistent and have this plan. Why, why, why? And it may be that you go, actually, no this is a choice I’m making, in which case it’s not a should it’s I want to do this, or it’s something that I have to do or it’s something I don’t have to do, I don’t want to do, in which case you can scrap it entirely. So really question your shoulds.
Something else that I also learned at Procter & Gamble and which I think a time management, time effectiveness course was to put something onto a someday maybe list, and I love this. You just put it on the someday maybe. You’ve taken it, you’ve done a brain dump, you’ve taken out of your brain and onto paper or in my case onto a digital list and you know what, you’ll get to when you have time. Let’s be honest, we’re never going to get there, but at it’s there now and then you can skim through and maybe there’s something that you do want to prioritise, but you feel like it’s on there but it’s not something that should be on my today to do list because it’s really not a priority.
And if you look very critically on your list, you’ll find so many things that you think you should do. Oh my gosh, I’ve got so many things on my today list and it’s on now. And actually I’ve realised now that you know what, this could be an upcoming or this could be a tomorrow, next week or in fact could be a maybe someday and it doesn’t have to happen at all.
Now, something else I recommended before is to audit where you’re spending your time right now. Use a tool like Toggl, T-O-G-G-L, Toggl, to actually look at, no judgement , just look at where you’re spending your time today and just the act of tracking your time will show you that actually you are doing less important work than you thought and maybe you’re spending your time on things that aren’t priorities at all and will really help you again to question, is this actually effective? Am I actually achieving what I think I want to achieve?
As I say to my clients, if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.
So if you say everything is top one, everything has to be done, then that doesn’t help you at all because you have to start somewhere. You need to know what is the biggest priority. Something, and I’ll admit this, and it happened to me when I first started outsourcing the sort of admin, social media, blog scheduling, and so on to the freelancer a few years ago, suddenly my calendar was empty. So I realised I’d been busy, but I’d been not actually doing work that was driving my business forward, bringing in an income.
So I’ve been avoiding, speaking of avoiding, procrastinating, actually doing business development, actually having calls with prospects, doing things that are going to move my business forwards and I’d be doing a lot of behind the scenes scheduling and things which I could pay someone, I don’t know, 10 pounds an hour or get a free intern or whatever to do. So, if you’re spending all your time doing this busy work that isn’t actually moving your business forward, you might feel like, “Oh I’m so busy, I’m doing so many things working in my business.”
But actually none of those things are moving your business forward. And especially if you’re doing this alongside a full-time job, then you only have a very small number of hours in the week. And if you’re spending a lot of that on this busy work, revising your strategy over and over, tweaking your website, copy whatever it is, researching and actually getting anywhere, then that’s something to really think about.
Okay. Number three is simplicity.
Simplicity is my theme for the year. So really, and this is linked to the to do list but even in a big picture frame, I suppose. Really think about, what is actually important? What is your one goal for 2020? I did a new template for our business accelerator programme this year, which is looking at my annual planning goals and our quarterly. One of the things on there is the one thing I will do that will make the biggest difference. So what’s the one thing that’s going to make the biggest difference this year, this quarter, this month, this week, today? If you could single-mindedly do that one thing that’s going to be incredibly powerful… and there are lots of books on this.
There’s one called Essentialism and there’s one called The ONE Thing. There is a Chrome extension you can put into your web browser called Momentum, I believe. Momentum. It’s a free plugin and it just asks you, it says every day, “Good morning Anna, what’s your priority for today?” It’s so simple. One thing, if I just get one thing done today, I’m really powerful. Another one is Eat the Frog, which is a book which is all around sort of doing the hardest thing, the biggest, most disgusting, problematic thing first thing, which is sort of a similar related topic, but really simplicity. If you really strip it back and this does require taking a step back and looking at everything you think you should do again, really look at which of these things is actually a prosy, what do I actually have to do here?
And especially last year I had a baby so I had to look at, okay, what’s the minimum I could do to maintain my branding presence and income and so on without stressing myself out. Be as present as possible with my new young family but still get things done. I can’t tell you how revolutionary this has been now having a young child as well to really focus the mind because you have so few hours to yourself in the day; and in the weeks you have to damn well make sure that those hours you do have, you’re really doing the things that make a difference. That’s really powerful. Simplicity, strip away all the stuff, the noise, the fluff.
And by the way, this is really difficult to do for yourself. If you’re new in business and you know you’re not sure on what you should be focusing those few hours on, then do get in touch. You can book a free call as ever at onestepoutside.com/freeconsultation, onestepoutside.com/freeconsultation and we’ll have a free 30-minute call. We’ll talk through your situation and we’ll talk about what your priorities, what my recommendation would be for where you should focus and of course how I can support you with that as well. But don’t suffer in silence and stop doing all this busy work and make sure that you know what your priorities are for whatever stage of business you’re at and whatever your goals are.
Now, number four is a reminder that doing nothing is doing something.
This is something that’s come up in my group programme a few weeks ago. A couple of my clients actually mentioned this, that is, if you leave your calendar blank, then things will fill it up and you’ll think, oh yeah, there’s nothing happening on Friday. Yep, sure, my mother-in-law can come over. Yep, sure, we can do this. Yeah, I can do that. I can have a consone. Suddenly before you know it, that blank space, that doing nothing, that rest is filled up.
So, doing nothing is an activity just as much as other things in your life and business. It could be Netflix, reading a book, going for a walk, having a bath, but it’s important that you’re doing it for your own sake or for its own sake. So, don’t read a book because you’ve set yourself a 52-book challenge for 2020 but because you want to read it. And this is really important for your own enjoyment, happiness and fulfilment, but also for your productivity and business success.
Again, I mentioned being ill, if you have a migraine, if you have the flu, much better to rest and recover than force yourself to keep going. And even if you’re just super tired, I’ve learned that I can sit at my computer, stare at my computer for three, four hours and try to do work when I’m knackered or, as I did yesterday in fact, I can just take a step back and spend some time maybe tidying my room or doing the laundry, going for walks, spending time with my family, even having a bit of rest on the sofa and then I’ll come back to work later and be much more productive and have much more energy and get a better result than if I’m forcing myself through it.
Now, this is not to say that you should only relax when you’re ill or you’re really tired because, again, doing nothing is doing something.
Having that space, a bit of silence, a bit of time for yourself is so important for your own wellbeing, for the wellbeing of your family and for the success of your business. So, block your calendar, don’t leave it blank. It can be relaxation time, it can be me-time, it can be whatever you want to call it, but it is an activity and you need to keep that appointment as sacred as if it was an appointment with someone else.
And then finally, just to wrap up, being present. So let’s come back to this busy-ness epidemic. Don’t just say I’m busy. Take a breath, check in with how you’re feeling. Now, maybe people asking you how you’re doing aren’t interested in a detailed analysis of how you’re actually doing depending on how well you know this person. But I would encourage you, I’d challenge you to come up with a more interesting answer next time. So if someone asks you how you’re doing, rather than I’m fine, which is the classic, or I’m so busy, what could you say instead? Actually I’m really enjoying some time off right now because I worked really hard in January and now I’m reaping the benefits. Or, you know what? I’ve recently left my job so now I’m taking some time to explore what I want to do.
Now, completely up to you again, how much you share and it’s not necessarily something you want to share with everybody. But again, have a think about what you do want to share and maybe don’t resort to latch onto that classic, I’m busy; because if you’re constantly saying that to other people and to ourselves, that’s something that we’re labelling ourselves with. It’s something we’re internalising and holding onto as something we really need. If we can begin to practise saying to ourselves and saying to other people that actually it’s really important right now that I’m slowing things down, I’m consolidating things in my business at the moment. I’m working on this exciting project. I’ve started volunteering here, there and everywhere. We’re planning a weekend away that we can… whatever you want to share, but just challenging you to share something other than I’m so busy.
But I think to come back to the beginning, the most important piece is really to spend some time reflecting on, why am I always clinging onto this being busy.
What is it that frantically taking things off my list is actually bringing me, what is it that that’s doing for me? Is it a form of procrastination? Am I avoiding something difficult, painful, whatever it might be? When I don’t do that, how am I feeling and how can I sort of introduce that new habit of actually doing nothing rather than always be doing something. And again, doing nothing is doing something.
It will feel strange at the beginning. If you’re anything like me, when you first go on holiday, the first few days I just feel like, “Ah, what’s going on? I can’t do this.” But I am very good after a few days relaxing into it. So if you do allow yourself, block some time in your calendar to have a proper lunch break, have a proper coffee break, try to increase the stretch of time when you’re so-called doing nothing. In addition to all these things we’ve said about reviewing your to do list and questioning the shoulds and so on, embracing simplicity, if you can try to begin to take longer time for yourself and so on, you will find that that becomes more of a habit; and creating those habits is something we’ll be looking at next week.
A few different thoughts there. I think something that maybe requires a bit more analysis and reflection. I’d love to hear from you as ever. If you have any comments on this then get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. If you have any questions on this or anything I can dig into further, confidentially of course if you want to ask something, then by all means get in touch. Hope you found that interesting. Hope you can together with me start to overcome this busy-ness epidemic and I look forward to seeing you back here next week. Bye for now.
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