10/11/2014 05:36 GMT | Updated 08/01/2015 05:59 GMT

From Busy to Super Busy: Why It's Time to Give Up the B Word


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"I'm sorry I'm too busy"

"Well I'm super busy"

"Well I'm even busier than you"

These are not phrases I've heard from friends, colleagues and clients but they might as well be. Everyone seems to be in an unspoken competition for who can be the busiest.

I'm no stranger to working long hours. I used to work in investment banking working 100+ hours a week. Now that's busy. As bankers we liked to protest/boast of how swamped we were. You'd think that given how many hours people worked that being busy was stating the obvious, yet we would compare how swamped we were, how many all-nighters we had to work, how many weekends we had to sacrifice. There was a sort of unspoken competitiveness to it. Justifying how needed we were by our employers. But, really, it was a sad mental compensation for how not in control of our own lives we were. A kind of Stockholm syndrome.

Now everyone is at it. While working hours have gone up over time in most professions, I'll acknowledge that, ultimately we have a choice as to how busy we make ourselves.

Being busy is a sort of laziness. While it can mean "actively fully engaged or occupied," when it rolls off the lips of most people it means being overwhelmed and unable to cope. Most people are trapped in overwhelm, and rather than actually looking at the totality of what there is to do and making rational choices (including saying no), they throw up their arms and say, "I'm busy, I can't possibly look at anything else." You remain the victim of overwhelm. Hijacked by your hyper thalamus. Yes, indeed, you may be working 20 hours a day, but being in a state of busyness and overwhelm leads to short sightedness and mistakes.

Busyness costs you.

Busyness has a real world cost on your relationships, social life and on opportunity.

Busyness keeps you from being present

When you are busy you carry the psychological weight of everything you have to do with you. You aren't present, you are distracted and anxious. Over time this build-up of stress has more serious consequences.

Busyness costs you your social life

When you talk about being busy you are secretly telling people around you to stop bothering you. That may work when your schedule is full, however, when you reach the quiet times you'll realise that people have stopped calling you. You've spent so much time telling them how inaccessible you are that in their head you are always busy. Now you have to do the work of reaching out and rebuilding the relationship.

Busyness costs opportunity and money.

I presented a coaching client an opportunity that would have added 10% to his business. He was too busy to look at it that he didn't even stop to think about it. When examined further he was focused on low value activities that kept his business small.

Busyness costs career progression.

I often coach lawyers who are looking to make partner, one of the key costs for them is that they are so busy with the day to day and trying to being good at their job that they forget to focus on developing the network, focus and skills that they need for partnership. Then they wondered why they are overlooked for partner. Never be too busy. You will close yourself down to opportunity.

Getting out of the busyness trap

So how do you get out of the busyness trap. Here are 5 tips:

  1. Determine your top 3 priorities in life right now. Write this down on an index card and keep with you. Check your activity regularly to see if it is in line with your priorities. Start to say no to the things that aren't in line with this.
  2. Take time out to take stock. It seems rational to keep going when you are busy, but by slowing down, you start to get a realistic assessment of how much of your busyness is actual work and how much is fear, worry and drama.
  3. Eliminate busy from your vocabulary. Replace the word busy with effective. Instead of saying. "I'm sorry I didn't get back to you, I was so busy," try saying "I didn't get back to you over the last week I have been so effective." See what that does for you.
  4. Don't over schedule. Schedule everything you have to do and start saying no to things that don't fit into your schedule.
  5. Learn to manage your energy. Busyness can be very draining on your energy. Start to learn how you can tune up your energy so that you don't feel so overwhelmed.

For more tips, check out my book the Energy Equation How to be a Top Performer Without Burning Yourself Out.