“Our rhythms are rushed … We race through our lives without pausing to consider who we really want to be or where we really want to go … We survive on too little sleep, wolf down fast foods on the run, fuel up with coffee and cool down with alcohol and sleeping pills … We take pride in our ability to multitask, and we wear our willingness to put in long hours as a badge of honour.”
So said Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to Performance, Health and Happiness.
The groundbreaking book was first published back in 2003. Jump to the present and not much has changed.
“There’s still an epidemic of sleep deprivation and an overemphasis on being busy,” says Positive Psychologist Timothy Sharp.
Simply put, we are overscheduled and time poor and, according to Innovation and Change Consultant Sarah Nally, “it is getting worse”.
The hectic Olympics
Whether we do it subconsciously or otherwise, many of us are guilty of competing for the ‘most swamped’ title because, as Dr Sharp puts it, “in our society, busyness is equated with success”.
“The ‘busy badge’ is one that is often deeply rooted in organisational and community cultures,” explains Ms Nally, who works with major companies to transform their culture, people and processes.
“Most people are not even aware that they wear their busy and hard-working badges with pride,” she adds.
But here’s the kicker: we are not actually working more than previous generations.
On paper, we are working less
Data from the OECD shows that globally, people are working fewer hours now than they were 20 years ago.
Technological advances and time-saving gizmos have also freed up huge chunks of our time.
So, what’s the deal. Do we just feel busier?
Oliver Burkeman put it well when he wrote in the BBC that “as economies grow, and the incomes of the better-off have risen over time, time has literally become more valuable: any given hour is worth more, so we experience more pressure to squeeze in more work”.
And technological advances mean we can.
“People are getting faster at doing more complex tasks,” says Ms Nally, explaining that “to balance the books 20 years ago might take a week; the same task can [now] be completed using technology in a few hours”.
Of course, paid work isn’t the only factor in this age of freneticism.
“We have social media, community groups, sports teams, kids’ activities and if you want to be a good employee, there are outside work activities to take part in,” says Ms Nally.
The ‘busy badge’ might be lauded but the consequences are far from enticing.
“Research shows, even as far back as the publication of Loehr and Schwartz’s book, that we can’t really function or be productive effectively without adequate downtime,” says Dr Sharp.
“Until we can value [rest, relaxation, reflection and contemplation] more, we’ll continue to suffer stress and depression at extremely high levels,” he adds.
Getting out of the busy
Subscribing to a busy lifestyle can be “like a bad habit”, according to Dr Sharp.
But switching gears isn’t out of the question.
Dr Sharp advocates small, meaningful changes, such as scheduling brief moments for meditation or relaxation.
And Ms Nally suggests “tricking yourself out of auto-pilot”.
“Wear your watch on a different wrist, switch the apps around on your phone, play with the colours in your diary and your inbox,” she says.
“Your brain has inbuilt novelty detectors; this is a way of ‘waking’ yourself up and switching from auto-pilot-busy-bee to hey-what-am-I-doing-and-why?”
“The key to slowing down,” she says, “requires conscious connection to own the change, communicate it, share it and live it.”
And hey, if you’ve paused long enough to read this article, maybe you’re already on the right track.
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