I’m too busy to blog about the perils of being too busy

I’ve been wanting to write this blog for some time now, but with superb irony, haven’t had time. Whilst there has been some construction in my head (whilst on a run, or listening to talking book that touched on the subject), I’ve only just got to writing it… just feeling too busy! If I’m truly honest with you though, there may also be a little bit of resistance from another form. It’s been in the form of a nagging feeling for some time now that blogs are a bit passé. This nagging sensation was then confirmed to me by Amira one evening whilst I was watching her on Goggle Box as she put it “Who the hell writes blogs these days?” To be honest, it has felt easier to latch onto the excuse of being ‘too busy’, than having to confront the idea that my preferred mode of comms is outdated.

The problem with my problem, is that I have a problem with having that problem! In other words, I’m writing something of a hypocritical blog. At my brother’s wedding many many moons ago, I remember chatting to one of his lovely friends. She and her husband had made the big move from London up to Yorkshire. The main reason she cited to me was that they wanted to get out of the rat race and live somewhere were people’s identities and self-worth weren’t heavily linked to how busy they were. “I hate it” she said in her lovely soft smiley way “you ask someone how they are, and they tell you they are really busy” the penny dropped instantly for me.

The [undertones] of such a conversation can sometimes feel a bit like this:

Person X: “How are you?” [greeting]

Person Y: “I’m so busy” [I’m very important and needed by lots of people who can’t do without me] “How are you?” [Are you more, or less important than me?]

Person X: “Yeah, I’m also busy – it never seems to stop!” [Like you, I’m also important and busy, I’m emphasising this by indicating it’s a constant state and pretty much out of my control]

I remember getting ready to go on holiday once, and I was able to do this without the crazy hecticness that can accompany pre-holiday days at work. My boss delivered an ‘amusing’ comment’ that I obviously didn’t have enough work on because I wasn’t horribly stressed before holiday. This came from the same boss who used to say with the straightest face that the company didn’t have a long-hours culture. The same boss who would frequently work until late in the evening or even into the small hours of the morning. If anyone is going to cultivate a culture, it’s the leader. To then be oblivious of that culture made me feel somewhat incredulous.

Many of my coaching clients talk about their genuinely busy and sometimes overwhelming work schedules. Covid seems only to have added to this, even though we have been released of our need to commute, it has been replaced with back-to-back meetings. Meetings where everyone is expected to attend (this wouldn’t happen in person as you rarely can find meeting rooms, let alone ones big enough to hold a lot of people). When people in the same online meeting, are emailing each other about issues not relevant to the meeting, you know you’re in trouble.

It’s like we’ve been possessed by online meetings, emails and instant messages. Have we really lost the ability to pause, think and reflect? It made Radio 4 news recently that HSBC were planning Zoom-free Friday afternoons to combat fatigue. Apparently it was prompted by a near heart-attack of an employee who was getting ready for his week at work. It’s great that HSBC are taking such steps. But if I worked there I would most likely find it frustrating. It’s taken them well over a year and near fatality to recognise that employees aren’t at their best if they spend all day every day on zoom meetings. I also find myself asking whether Friday afternoons is enough? It’s likely that by Friday afternoon most people are too frazzled to do any strategic thinking or long-term planning. These are the things that can help leaders build resilience. The afternoon would probably be used for mopping up bits and bobs. Useful, but unlikely to really drive performance, or enable people to feel like they’re really getting ahead of their work. Furthermore, many people who work part-time don’t work Fridays, so where does this leave them? Are they expected to do their strategic thinking or email mopping-up in their own time?

I’m not here to pick on HSBC. I actually want to say well done to HSBC for taking something of a lead on this, as it’s is an issue faced by pretty much any organisation my coaching services find their way into. The disease of ‘being too busy’ is endemic and seems to only have been amplified by the pandemic.

It also seems to be fuelled by a few other things:

  • Presenteeism – being seen to attend every meeting so that you can’t be blamed for not being there and missing something.
  • Self-confidence – confusing being busy with self-worth, and using ‘being busy’ to make ourselves feel like we add value and are needed at work.
  • Procrastination – being busy is an easier excuse for not doing something, than the real excuse. The real reason could be anything from the task being too hard to us needing us to face up to the reality of something (like blog writing being outdated!)
  • Status quo – sometimes it’s simply more comfortable staying where we are. This does include having the same old conversations/moans time and time again.
  • Distraction – good old-fashioned distraction from other things in our lives that may be making us unhappy or uncomfortable.

Which ones fuel your busyness? Maybe you can think of something else that fuels your attachment to being busy? Maybe you even felt too busy to bother to read the paradoxical title of this blog, or skipped through the blog without really reading it. If you’re not too busy to read this sentence, maybe you could choose one way to take steps to reduce your busyness….

  • The next time someone asks how you are, give them a real answer “I’m feeling happy because the sun is shining” or “I’m feeling quite energetic because I went to the gym this morning”…. Or “I’m a bit sad because I’m missing my Mum today on her birthday”.
  • Book yourself 40 minutes of thinking time into your diary a week at a time that suits you and work on something that never normally gets your attention.
  • Meditate for 5 minutes each morning.
  • Set your calendar meeting time default for 25 or 55 minutes to give yourself time to gather your thoughts/tea/comfort break between meetings.
  • Say no to a meeting you don’t really need to be in and instead clear your inbox.

In defence of my hypocrisy, I actually take one week a month where I don’t have client meetings. I call it a Zest Growth Week and I can read, plan, sleep, mediate, connect with colleagues…

I really notice the benefit of carving out time in which to be less busy. Some that might resonate include:

  • Giving yourself thinking/reflecting time means you can think more clearly about your work and make changes and improvements that save time, improve your performance and make you a better leader.
  • Not feeling stressed and overwhelmed all the time, means you have more energy and resilience to deal with moments of stress when they arise.
  • You can be more authentic, rather than your identity being linked to your levels of busyness, instead it could be linked to stuff such as your values or strengths.
  • You can make more meaningful connections with your co-workers rather than just comparing who is busier.
  • Work and life are generally more enjoyable!

If you want to take half an hour for some non-doing, join my free, informal Mindfulness Drop-in on Wednesdays, 12:30-13:00.

Here are the details:


Meeting ID: 820 1143 2812
Passcode: 327550


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