Does this sound familiar…
“Nowadays, people don’t ask you how you are, they say, ‘Are you busy?’ meaning, ‘Are you well?’ If someone actually does ask you how you are, the most cheerful answer, of course, is a robust ‘Busy!’ to which the person will reply, ‘Good!’
‘Busy’ used to be a negative sort of word. It meant having no time for yourself, no leisure. ‘No, I can’t come out this weekend; I’m too busy.’ Sorry about that, you poor stiff. Now, though, busyness is bullish. Conspicuous industriousness is the rule.”
This slice of life comment from Richard Stengel, former Time magazine editor, Under Secretary of State, and author, describes a way too common problem. Many people have fallen headfirst into the busy, busy, busy trap and can’t get up.
Now, Where the F Did My Attention Wander Off To?
After publishing one of my busyness blogs, a subscriber sent this message, “Today, I am an employee that has been recently moved to a leadership role (overseeing/coordinating a team of five people). I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) when I was in school and was medicated to deal with it. I had been working successfully without medication for over five years. Since I have moved into my new role, I have seen my ADD return.”
She’s not alone. It’s why overloaded and overwhelmed are on the list of top ten wallow words. We often don’t recognize how we’ve trapped ourselves. Some wallow in victimhood as if their time is out of their control – “I have no choice, ‘they’ are doing it to me.”
As noted in Finding the Right Speed in an Ever-Faster World, psychiatrist, Edward Hallowell, founded The Hallowell ADHD Centers. Managing his own ADHD and dyslexia, he’s a bestselling author of over 20 books. His groundbreaking Distraction series of five books began with Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood.
Hallowell reports, “Having treated ADD since 1981, I began to see an upsurge in the mid-1990s in the number of people who complained of being chronically inattentive, disorganized, and overbooked. Many came to me wondering if they had ADD.”
While some did, most did not. Instead, they had what I called a severe case of modern life…or attention deficit trait (ADT)…so many of the adjectives one could use to describe it begin with the letter f: frantic, frenzied, forgetful, flummoxed, frustrated, and fragmented, to name a few….”
The Dangerous Delusion of Multitasking
Hallowell’s research shows the benefits of multitasking are illusionary and a big part of the ADT problem. Many people believe that younger generations raised in an environment of juggling multiple technologies at once are better at multitasking.
Numerous studies have shown that to be false. Stress research found that shifting attention every few minutes to respond to incoming electronic messages increases levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), decreases memory function, and decreases our IQ. This crosses all age groups.
I can’t afford to lose IQ points! So, I shut off all those notifications.
How Much is Enough?
The ancient wisdom of this Aesop Fable points to a timeless human craving driving so much busyness:
“A boy put his hand into a pitcher full of filberts. He grasped as many as he could possibly hold. But when he tried to pull out his hand, he was prevented from doing so by the neck of the pitcher. Unwilling to lose his filberts, and yet unable to withdraw his hand, he burst into tears and bitterly lamented his disappointment. A bystander said to him, ‘Be satisfied with half the quantity and you will readily draw out your hand.’
Do not attempt too much at once.“
You might want to check out two mini-quizzes designed to help with self-assessment of how and where you’re investing your time: Purposely Connected or Meaninglessly Working? and Mind Your Own Busyness.
Too Busy to Learn
“I am too busy to learn” is yet another common trap on the list of top ten wallow words. It’s really saying I am too busy to grow, develop, and adapt to our fast-changing world.
Starting with his 1970 mega-seller, Future Shock, Alvin Toffler was an American writer and futurist who warned us to prepare for, and adapt to, the coming digital and communication revolutions. He wrote, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Toffler’s observation echoes across the centuries. The 19th-century British naturalist, Charles Darwin, revolutionized the study of biology with his theory of evolution based on natural selection. One of his key research findings was, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
When will I ever learn?
I’ve spent decades listening to people explain that they just don’t have time for personal learning or investing in training and organizational development. As they get busier, they have even less time for learning. As they have less time for learning, they need to work harder because the tools and skills they are using get ever duller.
As they work harder and faster using old ideas, methods, and approaches, there’s even less time to learn how to be more effective. This spiral leads down the slippery slope into — you guessed it — the swamp.
Contrast this all-too-common “victim” approach with highly effective people, teams, and organizations. They have reversed the vicious busy circle into a virtuous circle of continuous growth and development, leading to ever more effectiveness which, leads to less crazy-busyness and more time to learn.
How Are You Taking Care of Busyness?
I’ve written dozens of articles and blogs about taking care of busyness. We all have the same amount of time. How we invest our time determines our levels of personal and professional effectiveness — and happiness.