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The Busy Trap: Breaking the Cycle of Not Enough Time

I don’t really have time to write this column. And you’re probably too busy to read it.

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I don’t really have time to write this column. And you’re probably too busy to read it.

Busyness seems to be some sort of modern social currency. It’s like a status – as if the busier you say you are, the more important you appear to be. Too often today when you hear someone ask, “Hey, how are you?” the response is “Busy!” instead of “Fine, and you?” Busy is the new boast.

For many of us, it feels like there is simply no time. Unlike 30 years ago, today we are as a society overscheduled, overachieving and over-stimulated. Our children’s days are scheduled down to the half hour, crushing any sense of free time and creative exploration of the world around them. Our teams and technicians are racing to balance the needs of home, health and hobbies against expectations at work, keeping all of their plates spinning as the clock ticks. And most importantly, our customers are often stretched so thin they’re ready to snap – especially when they’re “just too busy” to deal with whatever brought them to the shop in the first place.

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The irony is that there is as much time today as there has been since time began. What’s changed are our values, priorities and perceptions. It feels like there’s less time, like we’re in a race to nowhere. Instead of holding the clock by its hands, making the time for what matters most, we remain on life’s treadmill. We are chasing the urgent-yet-unimportant as the minutes slip away and our energy drains.

So where is all of this time going? Depends on the person.

Digital distractions abound. Where once was only the “real world” to contend with, today there is an entire universe of virtual experiences and relationships that vie for our attention – from checking email and playing Candy Crush to checking Facebook and keeping up with your Twitter feed.

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We also struggle with FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” so we hate to say no when opportunities come up. And then there’s the fear of disappointing someone – or not living up to expectations. Ugh. No wonder we’re exhausted!

In addition to that, being a business owner is a 24/7 job. Back in the day, when people asked how I could manage the number of hours I worked with everything else I had going on, I’d laugh and say, “It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.” And that it was. If I wasn’t working in it, I was working on it or I was reading about it. As an owner, you give it all you’ve got to push ahead of the pack, to build momentum and win. But when you stop and think for a moment (just a moment, because who has time?), is your day-to-day busyness made up of actions that feel like movement but you’re still not really getting anywhere? What are you doing – and what should you be doing – to get your business out of a rut and back onto the fast track?

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The idea of working smarter instead of harder comes to mind, though it’s hard to stop being busy. I often have guilt if I’m not constantly being industrious in some way. Who has time to “goof off” when there’s so much to do? Unfortunately, it’s during those moments of leisure, relaxing from the strain of our daily demands, when the best ideas reveal themselves as the batteries recharge.   

Some say the wounds of busy are self-inflicted.

A few years ago, the American Psychological Association published a report on “Stress in America” and found that the majority of Americans surveyed recognize that their stress levels are too high to maintain good health. Ironically, the same survey found that people believed they were too busy to do anything about it.

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Yet there are serious health concerns from not slowing down. We already know that stress over time can result in negative health consequences – as can busyness.

In a 2013 article in the Boston Globe, Dr. Susan Koven, who specializes in internal medicine, wrote: “In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.”

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Being super busy can be an addiction – one that may end up hurting your business long term.

I invite you to step out of the race. I invite you to stop paddling against the current and instead tap into the flow of what’s most effective to take you to your destination – perhaps our Employee Handbook in this issue will give you some ideas.

You have permission to enjoy a few moments of lazy.

You have permission to block off time in the schedule for the important instead of the urgent.

You have permission to take a stroll and enjoy the spring sunshine.

Take the time to have a good time – to have a full life instead of a busy one.

In fact, your business and those you love are counting on it.

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