It’s hard these days to get away from the feeling that there is always pressure to get things done, and when we actually do get those things done, we look at our schedules to see more things. Some time in the last decade or so, the word “busyness” started being thrown around, often in tandem with the word “girlboss”. You could have everything you wanted, all you needed to do was be prepared to devote yourself to “the grind”.
The insistence on working hard to hit your goals – and to set new goals when the initial ones were hit – is often driven by looking at inspirational role models. If they can work their way to a billion dollars by the time they’re in their thirties, why can’t you? If you’re not hitting those same heights, then maybe you didn’t want it enough? This kind of mindset drives multi-level marketing scams, as we’ve seen extensively in the media, but it also has risks for your health.
Why is busyness harmful?
There’s an old saying that goes “If you want to get something done, give it to someone who looks busy”. The theory – and the reality – behind this idea is that if someone looks stressed and harassed, they are probably the kind of person who takes a task seriously, and they’ll do it even at their own cost. Busyness drives that kind of mindset – if you’re not ticking off your to-do list everyday, you’re failing, and you won’t reach your goals.
Time – and effort – are resources every bit as finite as anything material. If people are adding to an already stacked to-do list, then getting through it will take more time, and that has to come from somewhere. Usually that will mean getting less sleep than you need, working through breaks, going to work on your days off or not getting home until late. Often, it will mean all of these things. That’s not something that is healthy for your mind or your body.
What are the risks of excessive busyness?
Having too much to do is exceptionally stressful. It means that you can’t ever fully relax, because even when you grab a moment to breathe, eat or drink water, you’re thinking about work. Physically, you’re likely to experience inflammation, headaches and digestive issues. If you have surgery, and need some time to lie there in your shape wear and recover, busyness will get you back to work too soon, and will affect your recovery period even when you do get time to rest.
Mentally, the impact is even worse. That feeling of accomplishment that comes with ticking off your to-do list never comes, because there’s always more to do – that’s the point of the “grindset”. The effects of this way of life are, unsurprisingly, increased mental illness such as depression and anxiety – along with the awful experience that is Imposter Syndrome. Even if you’re getting a lot done, and people are praising you for it, all you can think of is how you’re missing self-imposed deadlines and that you don’t deserve the praise.
What is the answer, then?
Busyness, over a sustained period, will always lead to burnout. If you’ve been attracted by the idea of throwing yourself into more work in search of greater achievement, you need to recognize that there is only one of you. You’ll get more done if you have realistic goals, clock off at a reasonable time, and learn to say “no” when someone tries to give you a task (because you looked busy). The unpalatable truth is that if you break your back to get more things done, your only reward will be a reputation for being a machine, who gets things done. The major drawback to this is that you’re not a machine, you’re a person.
It’s not a failure to want to have a life beyond work, to want to get enough sleep, nor to actually taste food when you’re eating it. There are real physical and mental consequences from trying to work through pain and exhaustion. So you do need, from time to time, to tell people “I simply have too much to do already. I’m sorry, but I can’t take on more work”. And sometimes, you’re going to be one of the people you need to tell.
It’s good to have goals and be ambitious. But for your own good, and that of everyone around you, be sure to also have limits and boundaries. You can’t be bossing it all the time – and realizing that will keep you working better for longer.