THE BLOG

Hitting Refresh in the Modern World - How to Break the Cycle of Busy-Ness

30/11/2015 20:22 GMT | Updated 30/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Two of my vital functions stopped working this week. My faculty of thought and my ability to communicate froze.

Refreshing, rebooting, repairing - skin-deep attempts - made no difference to my sluggish performance. Expert help told me I was on overdrive, my task manager struggling under the workload. One particular process was hogging my attention, consuming 15% (too much) of my brainpower.

Maybe we're not so dissimilar to computers after all.

Our energy and performance waxes and wanes. In the peaks we whizz along, multi-tasking from dusk until dawn, ticking tasks off our ever-growing to-do lists. In the troughs, we press refresh time and time again through coffee. Only a temporary solution, compounding the sluggish cycle, we look beyond caffeine.

We try the reboot - switching off for the weekend. Another fleeting fix, usage racks up again come mid-week. We're back in information overload; overwhelmed by the number of tasks we're running simultaneously.

Opting to repair the faulty add-on is too limited for the scale of the problem. Seeking help from doctors to fix the bugs gives us some breathing space. We don't learn though, and soon we find ourselves back in the cycle, saying yes indiscriminately, believing we can do everything and be everything to everyone.

Eliminating processes once and for all, it turns out, is the only way to lighten our load and get back to operational efficiency.

The diagnosis: Busy-ness disease

Symptoms: Texting while walking, crossing the road or... peeing. Pressing the close doors button in lifts. Rushing. Everywhere. Even to the printer. Throwing a strop when you just miss a tube. Feelings of anxiety, guilt, failure or exhaustion. Saying thinks like, "I'm just being efficient," "but I love being busy" or "I'm just trying to keep my head above water"

Common causes: City dwellers, as a cohort, are plagued by it. The constant drive to do more, to be the all rounder, to cram our day full of activities drives us to contagion. We're hooked on it together, feeding each others' habits. Invitations, status updates, links to articles we should read, videos we should watch. We share with the best of intentions, including people in what we think will be useful, or at least of interest. We are unaware that our actions embed the epidemic deeper within our switchboard. Society implants the view that being busy is a sign of being in demand, of being ambitious and being important. We often seem proud of how busy we are, even when complaining about it.

The good news: We can break the cycle. We can rest. We can stop. We have choice. We can learn to focus on one key task at a time, harnessing our energy to invest in the things that really add value to our happiness. Directing our efforts on one area mean that we are more likely to feel satisfied, to progress and to succeed.

We can continue to be curious, explore and sample. We just have to become experts at filtering our activities and saying no. Sufficient diligence will sift a riverbed full of sand to leave just 2 gold nuggets. Rather than letting life rush by, struggling to stay afloat, find what adds genuine value to you - the focus will benefit not only you but also those you share your life with. Move away from trying to perfect the art of multi-tasking. Being able to devote attention to an activity means we can recognise when something isn't working, to accept it and to adapt.

The bad news: The fine line between making the most of life and overwhelming busy-ness is not just fine, it's also invisible. Staying on the right side of sane and being in control of your schedule requires considerable discipline and regular analysis of the way we are (or other people are) filling our day. Crisis management comes more naturally than strategic thinking. Dealing with the urgent, rather than the important, gives us an immediate sense of completion, but will not lead to long-term fulfilment.

Treatment: Free up time to think. Analyse what would make you happiest today, this week, this year. What can you do today to advance towards your aim? Learn to say no politely to invitations. Embrace JOMO (the joy of missing out). Prioritise human connection, community, quiet and nature over social media and other screen-based activities. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown is a great book to help you streamline your life.

Prevention: Live in rural bliss

Only once we have decluttered our task manager, will our ability to fetch, decode, execute and write back (what a CPU does apparently) get back on track. If this is done in a sustainable way, we will be able to deliver to our full potential, to feel satisfied, strong and successful. To be genuinely productive we need to do more of less.

Now for the 'Annie dares'. Each week I will set three dares related to the message my post is trying to make. I won't post again until I have completed them - try and beat me! Please do share updates on how they go with #anniedares.

To combat busy-ness, Annie dares to:

1. Step away from the desk together. Invite and encourage your team at work to grab a coffee out of the office together. Leave phones at the desk. Walk and talk - even if you can only spare a takeaway coffee it's worth it. You'll be back. The world will continue. Clients will survive.

2. Leave your phone at home for a day. If you have plans, confirm the night before, write down any numbers you may need during the day. Pretend it's the pre-mobile phone era.

3. Take an evening stroll. Walk home, or for at least 30 minutes, without racing. Take your time, no phone or music plugged into your ears. No phone in your hand. Soak up the street and your surroundings with as many senses as possible.