Let’s Stop Equating Busyness with Success


A recent study found that Americans who always say they’re “busy” are actually seen as more important.

Often on the elevator, at the coffee bar, water cooler or break room you hear this conversation:

“Haven’t seen you in awhile. How are you?”


“Yes, me too. Busy, busy, busy!”

One day, my team and I reached the tipping point and decided to stop using “busy” to describe how we were. Whatever happened to “fine”? “Stop glorifying busy!” became our battle cry. As it turns out, we were on the right track.

Inc. magazine recently reported, “Research suggests ‘busyness’ is the mark of inefficiency and self-delusion.” We may THINK we are getting a lot done, but in reality, we’re not. Multi-tasking? Ha! That “quality” is on almost every resume I see. “Great multi-tasker.” Really? Research by Professor David Meyer of the University of Michigan reveals that suddenly switching from doing one thing to another means you take 25 percent longer to do each thing.

The truth is, we are feeling busier because we have more interruptions and distractions than ever before. One of my pet peeves is the person who emails you, then instead of waiting for a response, comes marching to your desk, interrupts your flow of work and asks if you got their email. 99 out of 100 times, it isn’t something urgent or especially time sensitive. And once interrupted, studies show it takes 25 minutes to get back into the swing of things. It makes me shudder when I realize how many times a day I am interrupted, or become distracted.

Hanging Up

There is also a ridiculous amount of pressure with our technology, to never be off duty. Do you remember what it was like to go on vacation and not have your boss or co-workers contacting you and pulling your brain back to the office, despite your body being in a tropical paradise. Remember weekends? When you could shut down? Now that we have our phones, tablets and even watches, we are expected to be “on.”

I was in a situation at a previous workplace where the weekend and late-night emailers often reached out to me and a co-worker. Where I would try to draw a “healthy” boundary of not responding until morning (unless it was truly urgent), the co-worker responded within minutes. I started feeling pressured to drop that healthy boundary and be on call 24×7. After all, busyness is equated to success, right?

What if instead of busy, we were productive?

How do you stop the busyness merry-go-round? It’s in your power to do so. After all, it is YOUR schedule.

  1. Choose Wisely: Be picky about the projects you say yes to. We are old enough to know the difference between a project that is going to be satisfying and lead to additional work/relationships, and those that are thankless tasks. Give yourself permission to protect your valuable time.
  2. Mindful Meetings. We all complain about them but they are inevitable. However, instead of randomly scheduled meetings throughout the week, try to group meetings within several days a week so you have days of uninterrupted head-down work time. Worst case scenario, schedule your head-down time to blocks of afternoon or morning hours. (In other words, schedule a “meeting” with your most productive self.)
  3. One Thing at a Time: Answer honestly. Have you ever been shutting down your computer at the end of the day and found a document you started that morning but had completely forgot about? You know, you were concentrating, but then stupidly opened your email for a minute and ZIP, it unleashed a multitude of tiny tasks– and you totally forgot what you were doing before that. Instead of substituting your intense thought process for mindless tasks that lead to a slippery slope of unproductive busyness, take a break. A real break. Get away from your computer and take a walk around the office, or the block. Then come back and finish your ONE THING.
  4. Turn off. The New York Post recently published an article that says Americans check their phone on average once every 12 minutes – so, 80 times a day. A study by Asurion found the average person struggles to go even 10 minutes without checking their phone. Reclaim your family-, friend- or love-life. Put down the electronic device and focus on another human being, or yourself. When your hand gets itchy to reach for the tablet or phone, mentally gird your loins and resist the urge.

Wishing you the best of luck as we tackle this unbusy-business together.


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