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The Seduction of Being 'Busy'

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My husband is tired of hearing me say “I’m so busy.”  I’m tired of hearing me say it too. 

Often, I talk about this overwhelm as if I’m the busiest person around.  Truth is, I don’t know anyone who isn’t busy.  Perhaps this is the new world order for those of us who frequent sites like Excellence in Government (i.e. there aren’t many organic farmers reading these posts...).

So what’s up with all the busyness? Americans are some of the busiest people around—and we tend to be proud of that. Studies have shown that:

And that's just a sampling of how "busy" we are. There's a depressingly large amount of social science on the matter.

What Can You Do?

I’ve tried to tackle my busyness with myriad techniques, tools and tricks. The funny thing is, they result in MORE work, not less (you've no doubt heard some variation of the fact that 23 percent of people who make to-do lists spend more time making said lists than doing the tasks on them).  

Personally, I am really good at being "busy." I'm a busyness machine--like an out of control printer spitting out print job after print job after print job – occasionally taking a forced pause to have my toner refilled.  Then back to cranking out the rest of the queue.

Powering through to get it all done, I've grown to realize, isn’t working.  The destiny of "done" or being "complete" doesn’t really exist in our knowledge economy.  That was a post-industrial trapping that is forever buried beneath the unstoppable and unconscious course we’ve charted toward the seduction of eternal busyness

So, I decided to try a different approach.  STOP.  No tricks, no games. Just stop. Stop responding and doing and calling and emailing and being busy!  In other words: In order to stop being busy, I had to stop being busy. 

I had to let go of the fear that I was going to miss something or drop balls.  Is it possible in the age of the 24/7 real-time enterprise and constant onslaught of communication to get everything and miss nothing? No way.  And should we try, then the best we can ever do is simply keep up. And that, my friends, is impossible. 

So, this holiday weekend I’m stopping.  The busyness will be waiting for me next week. For now, it's time to simply stop.

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

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