It seems that every few years the media and scholarly articles focus on what is the 'new smoking' - that is, what is really bad for your health. We all know that smoking is bad for you; and we have been told that sitting is the new smoking, and sugar is the new smoking, and I've also heard that gluten is the new smoking.
I purport that 'busy' is the new smoking...
Why, you may ask? Surely it's good to be busy?
Shane Hatton, speaker, and author of Lead the Room, talks about how being busy, flat out, crazy, swamped and run off your feet has become a bit of status symbol...
But in reality, not caring for yourself, not taking time to restore and recover is likely to impact your health, your productivity, and your ability to lead and interact effectively with others either or both professionally and personally.
As a self-confessed workaholic, I believe that you only achieve great things by working hard and staying focused on the desired outcomes; but the older I get the more I appreciate the importance of balancing being busy with downtime.
Like me, you have probably experienced those days, weeks or even years that pass in a blur of just being busy. In prior corporate roles I used to often joke with the team that we were caught in some time vortex where each year passes in a flash, because it was always so busy and one task or project just rolled into the next.
If you look back over the past year or years of your busy life, what stands out? I know for me, the highlights are not the times when I was busy doing brain-numbing activities.
My memorable moments are not driving in traffic, or checking and responding to emails, or doing administrative tasks, or cleaning, or watching mindless TV or YouTube videos.
What are memorable are my holidays, my time with friends and family, or even the down-time at work.
The times when I was laughing. When I was exploring or learning something new. When I was working with others to achieve great things.
So why do we place so much importance on being busy? Is it because we feel that if we are constantly doing we are justifying our existence, our salary, our job title - is busy what you need if you want to be known as 'successful'?
What are the potential implications of being too busy?
Stress, anxiety and a feeling of overwhelm;
Lack of sleep;
Lack of mindfulness and appreciating the moment;
Poor attention to health - exercise, healthy eating, listening to your body;
Forgetting to prioritise loved ones and losing relationships, or missing the important moments;
Insufficient time spent on self-development and reflection;
All of the above leading to depression and potential suicide.
In short, being too busy can lead to a rather uninspiring life that passes too quickly leaving you with feelings of regret and resentment.
If you are a business owner or leader, it is important that you look after your people. Don't discourage or put pressure on your team not to take time off. They may just come back healthier, happier and more productive! You can even find ways to incorporate downtime and memorable moments into the workplace - team activities, community/charity event days, conferences that involve hiking or other outdoor activities, even just mixing it up can add some variation and drag the team away from the mindless busy-ness.
You also have an obligation to care for yourself. As you can well imagine if you are experiencing any or all of the implications of being busy, it is unlikely to translate into you being a stellar leader, not to mention who you may affect in your personal life.
Even though I am working hard at building my business, I still make some time to shake off the busy and just be.
My brother asked me about my weekend, and in answering him, I appreciated the truth of my response:
It was wonderful - art, fresh air, great company, good wine, nice food, and some time with nature - you couldn't ask for more.
What are you going to do to reduce the busy-ness of your life? Here's some steps you can take:
Stop saying you're busy (or a synonym - it's easy to replace one with another);
Find one thing each day that is not one of your usual tasks and which makes you happy;
Take time to smell the roses - however that works for you - gratitude journal, meditation, watching your kids sleep...
Look at photos, or reminisce about past life highlights and plan your next one;
Encourage someone you care about to be less busy by joining you on a busy-free activity.
If busy is the new smoking, why would we want to continue? Are we addicted? Is it just a habit? How are we impacting others who have to deal with passive busy-ness?
If you want to break free of busy, it doesn't mean you have to quit your job, it just means you need to be more deliberate with how you use your time and choose to protect space in your calendar for more enriching experiences.