The Busy-ness Epidemic
When someone asks you how you are, inside or outside of work, how many times will you have answered “ugh, I’m so busy” in the past month? How many times today?
Chances are if you really think about it, you’d lose count. We’re all guilty of using the broad definition of busy as a reply or an excuse, but busy-ness is more than a state of mind, it’s an entire culture. Are we genuinely time-poor because work is overwhelming us as a society more than ever before? Or, are we simply overwhelmed because our mental state has been altered to perceive what used to be a healthier balance as no longer viable? Or has something changed, if so what?
We look at a couple of the main culprits and what we can do to help ourselves:
Misuse of Technology
According to a study by the University of Lancaster, we now spend up to five hours a day on our mobile phones. That could be for social media, apps, streaming, email, talking or browsing.
At a personal level, DMR delves a bit deeper into our tech use and found that the average office worker would receive around 121 emails a day with up to 54% of all emails being opened on a smartphone. In total, figures are expected to grow globally to around 320 billion daily emails being sent in 2019.
Further still, technology is infiltrating the bedroom. According to Sleep.Org – 71 percent of people sleep either holding their smartphone, having it in bed with them, or having it on their nightstand. Devices are also known to emit something called Blue Light which suppresses Melatonin (a natural hormone that helps induce sleep) by stimulating our brains which interpret the Blue Light as sunlight. This means when we should be winding down, we’re disrupting our natural sleep cycle by tricking our brains into thinking it’s still day. A lack of sleep, unsurprisingly, can affect our ability to be productive.
You’ve heard of fake news, but what about fake work? Fake work can be described as something which doesn’t align with the strategies or goals of the organisation and work that lacks meaning. Busywork is adding to the busy-ness epidemic, but to no real purpose. This kind of work can feel like we’re working harder, but not necessarily accomplishing what we should.
At work we want to feel valued and feel like our work matters, but if we’ve got a mental block that gives everything equal importance and we fail to prioritise appropriately, we can all get bogged down, feel harassed and possibly even unappreciated when we do make headway. Fake work is well-intentioned but is a factor in the busy-ness epidemic and is seemingly on the rise.
Status & Perception
There can be the misconception in our unconscious bias that the busier you are, the more important you are. Or, that people will think you’re not as valuable if your schedule isn’t full to the brim. Only that’s not true, and a commitment to a misuse of your own time merely reinforces the busy-ness rhetoric. We see how others spend their time and we emulate that behaviour thinking that’s the way to climb a ladder at work, or to appear equal in status, but all it does is perpetuate the myth that you can’t have a healthy work/life balance.
We can also use being busy as an excuse not to face up to other areas that need our focus, like for example, using the cult-of-busy as a coping mechanism instead of facing up to something we dread. Wearing busyness as both a badge of honour and an escape from ourselves isn’t sustainable.
No Free Time – A Myth
According to sociologist John Robinson most of us actually have about 40 hours of free time per week. There is, unsurprisingly, a gender divide in terms of % of our time spent doing things like household chores.
Men come out more time-rich, rather than women acting in a role as primary caregiver. Though that being said women acting as primary caregiver still have more than 30 hours a week of free time.
In his definition of free time Robinson included some staples like television as a free time activity, also relaxing, reading and working out. So how busy are we really and what can we do to feel more in control and more balanced?
How To Take Back Control
Let’s take a step back and stop talking as if ‘busy’ is our identity. Busy is an epidemic but it’s also something we can take steps to control, if not just for the benefit of our day to day in the office, or our quality time outside of work with friends or family, but also for our own mental health.
- Escape the cult of busy by firstly pressing pause and resisting the urge to use this as an opportunity to try and tackle everything that’s holding you up at once!
- Measure how you spend your time. You could do this by tracking your day to day in an excel sheet, in a notepad or instinctively taking an action to reduce something you know may be contributing to your lack of productivity or feeling of being overwhelmed. For example – Set yourself a goal to scale back the amount of time you spend aimlessly browsing your phone. Check out this easy way to look at your screen time if you have an apple phone, or android.
- Counter the ‘busy’ culture by doing your own thing. Don’t follow the herd and force yourself to feel like you need to compete, because you don’t. This can include learning to say ‘no’.
- Change your language. Instead of worrying you “don’t have time” to do something and focusing on the negative, adding to the feeling of letting something drop or letting someone down – are you simply just getting your priorities straight and choosing to focus your time on what matters?
- Practice some mindfulness in the mundane. Ten minutes of appreciating something small during your day, could be the 1% that uplifts the remaining 99%.
Make time for what matters and remember busy-ness isn’t a virtue.