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Busy – Whats with all the busyness?

Hi So Busy

When you ask someone “How’s things?” or “How are you?”

What is the common response?


Yes. More often than not, the reply is “Busy”. If you don’t reply in a similar way you feel a bit of a fraud. Busyness has become a status symbol.

The Radio 4 series called “Oliver Burkman is Busy” looks into the busyness phenomenon.

One of the questions it poses is –

Do you feel busier than you used to ?

If you have kids the likelihood is that you are busier than you were before.

I don’t have kids but I definitely feel busier.

A few years ago I seemed to have more time. I went to work. I met friends at the weekend. Did a few essential chores and that was about it. Maybe my life was a little simpler, maybe I was more relaxed.

Now I train 3 times a week, study Polish at college, write a blog, I am pushing forwards at work and have a flat to work on . This means that regularly I am not home until 7.30pm and sometimes 9.30pm. This is probably not very different to a lot of people or even fairly mild compared to some. As I am writing this I am thinking – Is this busy enough?  Will people think I do nothing at all? Should I be busier? This seems to be where we’ve got to.

I guard my time fairly well. I try not to agree to things on Monday evenings as I know I need some time at home to get a few bits done (Polish homework, write a blog post, home admin, call my Mum).

Having balance at weekends is good too. As much as weekends are great for get things done, they should also be about relaxing and spending time with friends and loved ones. I try to go training early in the morning, get the man jobs done and then relax on Saturday evening or have Sunday to go somewhere nice (to the coast for a walk and a spot of lunch).

Sometimes it can feel like a competition! You meet a friend and they blurt out the craziness of their life and you reply – “Oh, I went for a walk, sat under a tree and read a book”. And you end up feeling guilty for that. It feels like you should be busy all the time. Maybe you shouldn’t be!

Are we busier now than we used to be?

The radio series states we are not, and when you think about it, we aren’t busier than previous generations. We have some new stuff to play with. But, busyness is a choice. And we are choosing to be busy.

I have an app that stores webpages for when I’m offline. My phone has a million browser windows open with things I need to go back to. My inbox is full up with sales, promotions, money off vouchers, bands announcing tours, race entries, triathlon events, blog posts, new podcasts and other things I might like or  companies think they should recommend to me. The number of people I follow on Instagram is slowly climbing towards 100. Here is a post from instachaaz (one of my new “follows”) that explains it nicely.

Instachaaz - Busy


I’ve previously written about procrastination. The thing is, even when you know what it is, that you are actually doing it and have ideas on how to defeat it. It doesn’t go away.

I like a to-do list. Mainly because, if I don’t write it down, I will forget about it. This is not because I think I’m forgetful. I think it’s that there is so much stuff coming at me and there are so many opportunities to do things that I can find out about instantly, I just get distracted.

Here’s a little admission – I have a to-do list. I do something that was not on my to-do list. I then write in on my to-do list and then cross it out straight away. Absolutely pointless, but it gives me a sense of achieving something, of finishing a task by ticking it off the list. It gives my busyness a sense of purpose.

Do you know what structured procrastination is? This is putting off doing the immediate tasks over the hard ones (or the ones you should be doing). This is why the washing up suddenly seem so attractive when you have to write a report or do some homework.

Do you want to take on the big project where you don’t really know when or where it is going to end, or 10 smaller projects that will all come to a nice conclusion in a fixed amount of time? The big long project will probably get you further in the end and could change your life or career. But, simple is more appealing than big.

“Eat that Frog”

Have you heard the phrase “Eat that Frog”. It comes from the book by Brian Tracy.

Mark Twain once said that “Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Your “frog” is your most important task, the one you really should do and are most likely to procrastinate on.

Brian Tracy says –

“Many people confuse activity with accomplishment. They talk continually, hold endless meetings, and make wonderful plans, but in the final analysis, no one does the job and gets the results required”.

Busyness personified!

But we can multitask. Right?

Multitasking makes you slower and dumber.

A common “multitask” that many people are guilty of is using a mobile phone when driving a car. A number of studies have shown that doing this is the equivalent of drunk driving. In this day and age, drunk driving is a considered completely unacceptable. But driving while on a phone is tolerated.

That’s what multitasking does to you. It makes you not very smart.

Multitasking also makes you take longer to do those tasks. 40% longer! There’s a mental cost to switching tasks. Furthermore, when we are short on resources (for example time), we make bad decisions. This is called the Scarity Trap.

We are also not as smart as we think we are. If you were asked to remember an 8 digits number, such as this one –


Can you also hold a conversation at the same time or continue reading this post and remember the numbers?

Thought not!

Effort or being good at your job?

Within one of the radio programmes, Dan Ariely – Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University tells a story about a locksmith

Dan explains he was locked out of his house. The locksmith comes. Takes 2 minutes to get into his house and charges him $120. Dan then asks him about his pricing.

The locksmith tells the story that when I started out it took him 30 minutes to get into the house. He would end up breaking the lock and then charge $120 and $25 dollars for a new lock. He would also end up getting a tip.

Now it takes 2 minutes, he doesn’t get tipped and people argue about the price.

Which one would you prefer to pay for? Really you should pay for the 2 minute job. It ends up being cheaper and saves you time. It’s a job done better.

With the 30 minute job, you’re paying for effort and incompetence.

A further story that Dan Ariely uses to explain this is –

A person parks his car. He has no change for the parking meter. You are walking past and he asks you for a quarter. You say – “Yes I have a quarter, but I will sell it to you for dollar”. The person is likely to tell you to get stuffed.

If the same thing happens, but you say –“I don’t have a quarter, but there is a bank 5 minutes away. I will run to the bank, change a dollar for quarters and when I get back I will charge you a dollar for my efforts.” The person is more likely to say yes and accept the proposal. The second instance costs you the same and you’re waiting for longer. Again you are paying for effort.

So where does this leave us?

Busyness is stressful and really bad for your health.

So with that free half hour, you have at lunch time. Go and start your marathon training!

No, don’t do that.

I know it sounds weird and counter intuitive, but if we slow down, we’re more productive than when we’re constantly filling our time.

When we’re busy the ability to do complex tasks and creative tasks drops. Good ideas come when we are relaxed. It provides time to reflect and think.

An example is Ted Talks. One of the ways I feel I am contributing to my development is to crowbar in a Ted Talk. I consume it, but then have no time to reflect on it.

We should take more free time. But there is a guilt associated with that. There was a time when free time was associated with wealth.

One of the things I am working on is doing what I really want to do and not forgetting the simple things I enjoy.

I love films and I don’t watch them as much as I used to. I recently watched a film called Brooklyn. It was excellent. It reminded me of how much I enjoy a good film and how invigorating it can be.

Brand “busy” is not cool, not interesting and not effective.

Remember. You have a choice. You can choose to be busy if you really want to, but you can also choose not to be.

Further Reading

Tony Crabbe – Busy, How to thrive in a world of too much


15 thoughts on “Busy – Whats with all the busyness?”

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