How To Accomplish More and Stress Less By Killing Busyness

AdVance Leadership » How To Accomplish More and Stress Less By Killing Busyness

Welcome to Friday 411, Issue #003. Many leaders wear busyness like a badge of honor. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you’ll understand why busyness is hurting your life and leadership and how to beat it before it kills you.

1 Insight

Even though you brag about how busy you are, that busyness harms you physically, mentally, emotionally, and relationally. Five steps will help you overcome busyness in order to stress less and accomplish more.  

I am concerned for your life.

That’s what my doctor said to me in 2013.

At 36 years old, I had just described four problems I was experiencing to Dr. Tate:

  1. Exhaustion. No matter how much I slept, I felt weary.
  2. Heart palpitations. I would pour sweat and have difficulty breathing over simple tasks like checking email.
  3. Forgetfulness. People would entrust important information to me, and it would vanish from my mind.
  4. Chronic migraines. I had debilitating headaches three times each week.

Dr. Tate expressed concern over these four symptoms but wanted to dig deeper before a diagnosis. “Tell me about your commitments and what your life looks like.”

I told Dr. Tate the same thing that you say when someone asks you how you’re doing: “I’m busy, but it’s a good busy.”

He pressed, “What do you mean by busy?”

“I work about sixty hours per week leading a division in a nonprofit. I’m earning my doctorate in leadership, so I’m usually awake around 4:30. Between work and school, I travel sixty days each year. I’m married with three young kids, which requires a lot of attention. My wife and I are creating a program with our church to help develop leaders. And I’ve slowed down a lot over the last year. My Mom passed away, so I wanted to have space to grieve.”

That’s when Dr. Tate put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Garland, I am concerned for your life.”

It’s Killing Us All

With Dr. Tate’s dire statement, I readied myself for the probability of a terminal diagnosis. Instead, he said, “You are stressed out.”

Flustered, I responded, “But I don’t feel stressed.”

With a sympathetic smile, he replied, “But your head does…three times each week.”

I countered. “I love my life. I like every part of it: my family, job, school, friends, and church. Why do you think I’m stressed?”

He responded, “Because you’re busy.”

I retorted, “I know I’m busy. But it’s a good busy. Besides, everyone is busy.”

“You’re right,” he said. “Everyone’s busy. And it’s killing us all.

Dr. Tate’s assessment shook me so deeply that I spent the rest of my doctoral research focusing on busyness and its effects on leaders, teams, and companies. I discovered that busyness is an attempt to get more out of life by squeezing more into it. Unfortunately, it has the opposite effect: it squeezes the life out of you and robs you of the joy of living.

Busyness is so prevalent that the authors of The 5 Choices say, “Busyness is the existential claim of the 21st century. I am stressed out. Therefore, I am.”

Society assumes that busyness must be good because it signifies that you are important and in-demand. Busyness, in fact, wreaks havoc on your life.

What Is Busyness? And What Does It Do to You?

I define busyness as an overcommitment to too many good commitments. In the same way that a delicious pizza becomes stomach-churning when you gorge yourself on too many slices, you can have so many good commitments that the overall experience of your life becomes bad.

Busyness hurts you because of the toll it takes on you:

  • Physically – it floods your body with adrenaline and cortisol and has been linked to multiple illnesses.
  • Emotionally – it has been connected to burnout, which results in emotional exhaustion and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment.
  • Mentally – it prevents you from focusing and distracts you from your highest priorities.
  • Relationally – it causes a condition known as depersonalization in which you resent the people whom you most care about.

5 Steps to Kill Busyness

In my research, I found five steps to kill busyness before it hurts you.

Step 1: Decide.

Decide if busyness is worth the toll that it takes on you. If not, you choose to get (un)busy.

Step 2: Deconstruct.

In the second step, you will deconstruct bad beliefs, habits, and commitments that trap you in busyness.

Step 3: Design.

During this step, you design the life you want to live. You must create space for four critical elements of highly productive, (un)busy people: Relationships, Recreation, Rest, and Reflection.

Step 4: Develop.

In this step, you develop habits and time management practices that help you stay (un)busy.

Step 5: Draw Others In.

Once you are living an (un)busy life, you will draw in your family, friends, and coworkers to get (un)busy. Together, you’ll learn to stress less and accomplish more.

Get Busy Livin’

One of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption. It tells the story of Andy, a man who was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Andy strikes up a great friendship with another prisoner, Red.

At one point in the movie, Andy tells Red about his dreams once he gets out of prison. Andy wants to move to Zihuatanejo in Mexico, have a boat on the Pacific Ocean, build a hotel, and enjoy his life. Red, on the other hand, believes he couldn’t survive on the outside. He had been in prison for so long that he had become “institutionalized.”

As Andy describes his dreams, Red says, “I don’t think you ought to be doing this to yourself, Andy. I mean, Mexico is way the hell down there. And you’re in here. And that’s the way it is.”

Andy agrees. “Yeah, that’s the way it is. It’s down there, and I’m in here. But I guess it comes down to a simple choice: Get busy living. Or get busy dying.

That’s your choice now, too. But now you know the irony of that statement. Only when you live without busyness can you “get busy living.”

Get busy gettin’ (un)busy.

1 Action

Decide that busyness is not worth the toll that it’s taking on you. Commit to stress less and accomplish more by getting’ (un)busy.


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