May 19, 2015

Busy Is Not a Badge of Honor

The most common response to “How are you?” is “Busy.”

It’s a strange response, but so common in our hurried culture. Busy has become a badge of honor. We reward people who work 80+ hours a week. We reward people who don’t take breaks or time off work. We reward people who forgo sleep. We reward people who say, “I’m busy.”

But is being busy productive? Or more importantly, is being busy healthy? I am learning it’s not.

I burnt myself out twice over the past year — in October and February. This was a real wake up call, and forced me to acknowledge the way I was working wasn’t working.

I maintained a frenetic pace writing and launching my book, Sticky Branding, while serving clients and trying to run my business. I wasn’t just burning the candle at both ends. I was carving up the candle and finding ways to light it in the middle too.

The pace caught up with me, and in both circumstances my body shut down. It was a rather surreal experience. The last time was on February 20th, the day before my birthday. I’d taken the day off to go snowboarding with some friends, but had to call it quits mid-morning. I felt like I was developing the flu, and didn’t have the energy to keep going.

I headed home, and proceeded to sleep from Friday evening to Monday morning straight. When I got up on Monday I was refreshed and recovered. My body basically took over, and made me take a break.

At the time I thought I was doing the right thing. I told myself, “This is what it takes to create a bestseller.” I achieved the goal, but it came at a cost. Between October 2013 to January 2014 I worked six days a week and took a total of three vacation days. All I did was work.

I was cramming in as much as humanly possible into one activity, and letting everything else slip: fitness, diet, friends, family, life.

No matter how productive you are you can’t fit 80 hours of work into 40 hours. Inevitably we end up working longer and sacrificing more to keep up with our obligations. In my case I stopped taking vacations and days off. I turned down two family trips, because I was “too busy.”

Following my February burnout experience I have been challenging the notion of “busy.” Busy is ingrained in our culture. We hold it up as a badge of honor, but as a client from Poland recently said to me, “The United States is like a labor camp with good food.”

He’s right, and that’s sad.

Busyness is a question of lifestyle and productivity. You don’t get better without breaks. For example, you don’t get strong by doing just one exercise. There’s only so many bicep curls you can do at a time, and after a while doing too many becomes counterproductive.

The same goes for work. We are rewarded for working long hours and doing the same thing over and over again. Work is the proverbial bicep curl. What else are you prioritizing in your routine?

Productivity is dependent on your energy, and that’s drawn from a variety of factors: diet, sleep, exercise, diversity of work, diversity of experiences, personal relationships, and more.

Busy is not a badge of honor. Talking about how busy you are should be a warning sign. What are you sacrificing for your busyness, and is it worthwhile?

I am shifting my approach to work. Health, fitness, and family are not sacrifices. They are priorities.

What about you?

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