Do you feel the need to be constantly busy?
Let’s be clear: busy is different from productive. You can be busy and productive, but being busy doesn’t necessarily mean productive.
Busy just means that you have a lot of things to do. Productive means you are accomplishing something meaningful with your actions.
Why does this matter?
Because so many people pack their lives with unproductive busyness as a means of coping with other problems they might be having. After all, if you’re busy, you don’t have to sit still with your thoughts and emotions. You can constantly take yourself out of the present by focusing on the next thing you need to be doing.
People may use busyness to cope with anxiety, depression, trauma, or other mental health issues. Some people may use busyness to avoid an unhappy life.
This can help you get through a difficult time, but it doesn’t really help you heal or grow.
On the other side of the coin is addiction. Busyness is all about getting things done, which also fires off the reward circuits in your brain, causing a person to keep subconsciously pursuing those successes. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to work hard or accomplish goals. Not at all. It’s when you start neglecting other areas of your life in favor of the chase that it becomes a problem.
So, what can you do about it? How can you combat the need to always be busy?
1. Work on improving your mental health.
People often use busyness to distract themselves from other problems they live with.
Busyness prevents people from living in the present. Instead of sitting idly with their thoughts and emotions, they are instead thinking about the next thing they need to do. It might be work, a social engagement, housework, or just about anything that requires their time and attention.
This isn’t necessarily a mental illness issue. Maybe you have a difficult home life, or your relationship is falling apart. You may not want to deal with those negative emotions. Escapism is one way that people try to avoid coping with ugly reality. And we’re not throwing stones here. Everyone has done it in some way.
Stop to examine what’s going on in your mind. If you’re having a hard time, it may be worthwhile to reach out to a support network (if you have one) or talk to a counselor about what you’re dealing with. Sometimes our problems can seem impossible because we just don’t know how to deal with them.
2. Address your fear of missing out.
People may pack their schedule with activities because they don’t want to miss out on what’s going on. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless it’s negatively impacting your ability to conduct your life.
This person may be packing their schedule with social events, going out partying, or otherwise ensuring that they are constantly on the move. They just can’t sit still for an extended period because they don’t want to miss out on a good time or possibly lose an experience.
That’s not a bad thing in moderation. Experiences are good for the soul. However, it is worth addressing when that constant need to be involved starts negatively affecting you.
Maybe you feel anxious about missing out. You might feel depressed or discouraged because things didn’t go as planned. Maybe you have jealousy and envy because your friends do something that you didn’t.
Other people may have staked their whole identity on being the person that’s always there. So they always say yes to everything because they don’t have healthy boundaries and want to be seen as reliable.
In that case, it’s helpful to take a step back and let other people fill the gap. You don’t have to run yourself ragged to have every experience. Instead, try focusing on the quality of your experiences. Do things you really want to do instead of things you might be lukewarm about.
3. Don’t live your life to the standards of others.
We, as a society, view busyness as a standard and measure of success. Lazy people don’t win! You gotta hustle! You gotta grind! Why aren’t you working 60 hours a week? Why don’t you have a part-time job? Why don’t you have a side hustle? Why aren’t you constantly busy? Gotta make enough money to buy all the stuff! Gotta get that nice car, fancy clothes, the latest and greatest in technology!
We speak of these people in a sense of awe instead of pity. Like, congratulations on buying a $2000 handbag with an Italian name on it? I hope your friends are impressed. This plastic bag isn’t nearly as impressive, but it still accomplished the exact same goal.
So many people are busy trying to live up to standards that aren’t healthy for them. And it’s not just stuff like consumerism. It’s also the person looking at filtered pictures and videos of fitness influencers and deciding they want to look like that, so they spend 40 hours a week in the gym working themselves into a life-altering injury.
Pursue what you want out of life. Set and crush goals. Just don’t overload yourself with stuff to do to impress other people or because you’re trying to meet some superficial standard.
And definitely don’t do it because people on social media do it. I can assure you that they are most likely not honestly representing the life they actually lead, whether it’s using image filters, renting expensive clothes to take pictures in, or snapping a selfie with the car of someone else.
4. Create dedicated time in your schedule to slow down.
The first thing that a busy person typically sacrifices for their busyness is self-care. “I don’t have time to just sit around and do nothing. I don’t have time to hit the gym, or meditate, or engage in my hobby. I have so much to do and not enough hours in the day!”
You have to make time and space to slow down. It’s not going to just appear out of thin air. If you don’t take active steps to create that space, you’re just going to fill it up with more stuff to do. So, how do you handle that?
You schedule self-care into your regular routines, and then you treat that self-care as your top priority. Do not change or alter it unless you absolutely must. You make your self-care a regular part of your life by doing that.
It might be something like reading for an hour to decompress before bed, getting up early to exercise, or hitting the gym after work three days a week. Hell, you can just block out an hour to do nothing but listen to some music, chill, and stare out the window.
Whatever it is, block it into your schedule and do not let anything else infringe on it. Self-care is required if you want to keep yourself well and healthy.
5. Do not let guilt push you into busyness.
Guilt can be a motivator that keeps people busy. Sometimes a person stays busy because they have been conditioned to constantly work hard. And if they are not working hard, they must be lazy, and if they are lazy, then there must be something wrong with them.
Just the act of sitting still for too long can make this kind of person very anxious and uncomfortable. And if this person is you, you would likely benefit from choosing to sit still and do less more often.
Granted, being still may be a luxury. Some people stay busy because they have no other choice in the matter. The kids gotta eat, housework isn’t going to do itself, and these bills certainly aren’t getting any cheaper. Being overworked and constantly stressed may facilitate feelings of guilt because it creates a fear that you’re falling behind. And that fear may be totally justified.
Still, once you get out of that hole and ahead of the race, you’ll need to find ways to slow yourself down and just chill. It may feel uncomfortable, but it’ll get easier the more you do it.
6. Ask yourself, why?
What is it that drives you to be busy? Where did it come from? Was it a parent telling you that you’re lazy for not working? Is it an uncomfortable feeling from not feeling productive? Are you avoiding something in your life that you really need to address? Do you crave the feeling of success?
What is it that drives you to keep doing things, things that may not even matter all that much?
Can you determine the essential and focus more on that instead of busywork?
You may or may not be familiar with the Pareto Principle. The Pareto Principle is the idea that 80% of the consequences and outcomes come from 20% of the work. This principle applies to so many activities and industries. Let me give you an example of how it works.
Consider a writer. They want to sit down and write a novel. Well, there’s so much planning to do! They need to develop characters, story arcs, brainstorm, outline, tweak this, fix that, and do some more research! And while all of that is well and good, a lot of would-be writers lose themselves in all of that busywork instead of actually, y’know, writing the novel. But no, they’re still writing, but they’re not actually writing; they’re just reading and researching again.
The way that you use the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule, to your benefit is to identify the 20% and focus hard on that. Every character in the book doesn’t need a full family lineage and history. That’s hours and hours of pointless busywork that keeps the writer from actually doing the writing.
Even in software development, borrowed from the Wikipedia page on the Pareto Principle, Microsoft noted that fixing the top 20% most reported bugs would reduce related errors and crashes by 80%.
Do work hard. Do strive for your goals. But don’t bury yourself under a bunch of busywork. Don’t use busywork to avoid the difficult parts of your life. Instead, confront them, dive into it, get it sorted out.
And remember, if you can identify the most important 20% to focus your energy on, you can make the whole thing so much easier.
You may also like:
- 18 Elements Of An Effective Self-Care Routine
- 10 Sad Signs You’re An Overachiever (+ How To Stop Being One)
- How To Slow Down And Enjoy Life: 12 No Nonsense Tips
- 21 Great Ways To Improve Your Quality Of Life