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Culture of Busyness

Updated: Aug 6, 2022

On a personal level, I think this is the aspect of my own working life I have found the most challenging. I have a love / hate relationship with being busy. I moan about it, I thrive off it. And I am sure I am not alone. So I wanted to dig a little deeper into this conundrum and see if I could emerge with some new insights about our tricksy relationship with business.

You burn bright is leadership coaching by Zoe fenn for future leaders in the creative industries

On the surface we feel we are unable to escape busyness. Emails, slack messages and zoom meeting invites rain down on us 24/7 continually adding to our ‘to do’ list. Tools that have built into their design nifty ways of over-stating their importance – beeps, pop ups, response requests that make them hard for us to ignore. But we are smart. And we have found strategies for managing this – from locking our phones in padlocked cupboards for an hour at a time, to turning off or silencing notifications. This may help, but it has not eradicated the problem. These are sticking plasters, short term, quick fixes to perennial problems.


When I observe people (and I include myself in this) eagerly reaching for the ‘sticking plaster,’ this signals to me that something deeper is going on. So what is it?


I think the nub of this complex issue is that busyness is a status symbol. Busyness is a shortcut to re-affirming our identity. It’s a way of showing the world – I am useful, I am important, I matter. And what so neatly supports us here, is how visible busyness is. Busyness is so easy to signal. It shows up in everything we do, from the number of hours we work, to the language we use, in phrases like “I’ve not got time” or “There aren’t enough hours in the day.”


And organisations have a bias towards action too. Rewards are distributed for landing a new client or hitting a revenue target, but who congratulates the team who says no to a bad deal or terminates an unhealthy client relationship?


Easy + visible + identity affirming = a perfect formula.


The case against busyness is pretty compelling. On a personal level, less family time, less fun, less downtime… which is terrible for our mental health and relationships. And for businesses there is a cost too. People are busy, but are they focusing on the most important tasks? The most compelling argument against busyness is that it inhibits our ability to think well. Which is ironic in a knowledge economy. But because busyness is visible and thinking is invisible, we struggle to get the balance right. I think Brene Brown (Author, Podcaster, Researcher) puts this best of all when she says “We are a culture of people who bought into the idea that if we stayed busy enough, the truth of our lives wouldn’t catch up with us.” What this also reveals, is that staying busy is the easy option. The hard work starts when we slow down or stop.


To sum up, I don't think we can "hack" our way out of busyness. I think we need to look inside and ask ourselves "what is stopping you slow down?"


Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this article please share with your network. If you want to cultivate a healthier relationship with your workload, then coaching can really help. Get in touch at zoe@youburnbright.com

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