Chronic busyness should not be a badge of honor or status symbol. It’s a warning sign that things need to change.
Being busy can be good. It can mean you’re being productive and getting things done. It can also be bad and signify that you’re taking on too many activities and not giving yourself enough breathing room to relax and rest.
My client ran into the Starbucks 30 minutes late for our career coaching session. Again. I looked up and raised one eyebrow at him as he sat down across from me.
“What? I was working on a really important project,” he said. “I couldn’t just leave.”
This wasn’t a one-time incident. He had rescheduled multiple appointments and arrived late several other times. Each time, his response was not an apology. Instead, he would boast about how busy he was and brag about how much time he was spending on all of his work projects.
“Look, I barely have enough time to sleep, let alone focus on my career development,” he told me. “I know I said I wanted help mapping out a career game plan, but there isn’t time for me to do that right now. I’m just too busy.”
I raised both eyebrows at that comment.
“My company needs me,” he responded. “I didn’t even take a single day off last year. And the way things are going, it looks like I won’t be taking a vacation anytime soon.”
For “Tom,” being chronically busy had become a badge of honor. It made him feel important. It made him feel needed at work. It was also hurting his health. The long hours, stress and lack of relaxation time had resulted in insomnia, headaches and fatigue.
Over the last 10 years I have seen a dramatic rise in the number of clients addicted to chronic busyness. Surveys show that this addiction to busyness has played out in the decreased number of vacation days Americans now take each year. According to Project: Time Off, 55 percent of Americans did not use all their vacation days in 2015. A Skift survey reports that 41 percent of Americans said they didn’t take a single vacation day during 2015.
How do you know if you’re addicted to chronic busyness? Take a moment to answer these questions.
How would you describe your days? Would you call them hectic, chaotic, consumed in activities?
How does being busy make you feel? Do you enjoy the excitement of going from one activity to another throughout the day?
How many vacation days do you take, on average, each year? Do you take fewer vacation days than you’re given or even skip vacation time altogether (like Tom)?
What activities do you normally do when you are not at work? Is your downtime packed with activities or more work? Do you rarely take time to sit, relax and read a book or magazine for fun?
Are your friends and family weary of hearing how busy you are? Do you post many of your activities on social media? Do you talk about your activities when you see friends or family in person? Have you ever seen someone roll their eyes when you talk about how busy you are?
What is your response when someone asks, “How are you?” Is your typical response, “Busy!”?
Being addicted to chronic busyness might feel good because of the adrenaline rush you get from the stress of all the activities, but it can be harmful to your health. The clinical staff at the Mayo Clinic warns, “The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.” Those stress hormones can increase your risk of health problems such as anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems and even memory and concentration impairment.
As a society, we need to stop glorifying being busy. We need to stop competing against each other for who is the busiest. Chronic busyness should not be a badge of honor or status symbol. It’s a warning sign that things need to change. Now, go schedule that summer vacation.