Is being too busy a status symbol?

Researching work trends for my new book, I read some research that found a busy and overworked lifestyle, rather than a leisurely lifestyle, has become an aspirational status symbol…people dread idleness and desire busyness in search of meaning and motivation in their lives”.

When people ask you how you are, do you say “I’m busy” instead of “I’m fine”? Being too busy is all too common, and for some people it is the way they show they are doing well, they are in demand, they are working hard, and they are important. But why is being busy considered impressive, aspirational or positive?

Being too busy means we have been unable to plan our own time, we are at the mercy of other people’s expectations, or we are not being selective about where to focus our attention and energy. It might be something we share with people because we are struggling and need their help and understanding, but being too busy is no longer something to boast about.

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst” – William Penn

We all feel greater time pressure than ever before at work, and work will keep getting busier. Companies are increasing their drive for efficiency, smaller teams are doing the work that larger teams used to do, roles have changed and combined to create multiple objectives, and we are given ever more challenging tasks. So, the work we are doing feels and is much more complicated than it ever was. No wonder we feel too busy!

“Keep up”, “put your head down” and “work harder” are what we tell ourselves, but these are no longer sustainable. The pace will keep getting faster as we have access to more and more information. Just working harder can lead to burnout, mistakes and stress, which do no good for our work, our teams or our health.

“It is really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time” – Steve Jobs

We can’t create more hours in the day, but we can create more time, by becoming more efficient and selective about where we spend our time. We need to have the time to participate in a team, and we need to create this time by taking it away from something else. We can only flourish, be productive and have the ability to manage all our knowledge and networks if we manage our own time.

A 2019 study of global knowledge workers showed that the average worker spends only 43% of their time on doing their job, and the main things that get in the way are wasteful meetings and too much email.

Some ways to take back control of your time:
• Make meetings 15 or 30 mins as a default, never an hour
• Say no to meetings you don’t need or want to be at
• Do video conferences instead of spending time travelling to meetings
• Stop spending so much time on email – pick up the phone or send a voicemail or text.