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Why you feel busy all the time (when you're actually not)

Busyness is a myth

Although people feel much busier with work these days, the total time people are working – whether paid or otherwise – has not increased in Europe or North America in recent decades.


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Why you feel busy all the time (when you're actually not)

Why you feel busy all the time (when you're actually not)




Key Ideas

Busyness is a myth

Although people feel much busier with work these days, the total time people are working – whether paid or otherwise – has not increased in Europe or North America in recent decades.

The illusion of busyness is caused by:

  • Economies grow and time is more valuable: Any given hour is worth more, so we experience more pressure to squeeze in more work.
  • The type of work we do has changed: We live in an “infinite world" - more incoming emails, meetings, things to read, more ideas to follow up – and digital technology means you can easily crank through them. The result, inevitably, is feeling overwhelmed.

Busyness has become the indicator of status

Though historically, the ultimate symbol of wealth, achievement and social superiority was the freedom not to work. Now we measure our worth not by the results we achieve, but by how much of our time we spend doing things. 


Busy Being Busy

We are far too busy in ways not imagined before, though productivity hasn't increased proportionally. Studies show we have more leisure time than before but have become overwhelmed with ...

Accept Defeat

Time and resources are limited but 'everything that is to be done' is always unlimited, so there is bound to be a compromise, a trade-off.

Something will always be neglected or deprioritized, no matter what you do.

Respect your rhythms and body clocks

Humans are not a machine or a piece of equipment, that can be made to work overtime and show more productivity.

We don't work like a machine, and working more hours does not mean more actual work. If we respect our body clock and work with it, we can be more productive.

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Our culture of work

Our culture claims that work is unavoidable and natural. The idea that the world can be freed from work, wholly or in part, has been suppressed for as long as capitalism has existed.

Exploring the abolition of work
  • In 1885, socialist William Morris proposed that in the factories of the future, employees should work only four hours a day.
  • In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that advances in technology would lead to an age of leisure where people might work 15 hours a week.
  • Since the early 2010s, these ideas have been developed further, creating a growing critique of work as an ideology, and exploring alternatives to work.
  • Post-work offers enormous promises: In a life of much less work, life would be calmer, more equal, more communal, more pleasurable, more thoughtful, more politically engaged, more fulfilled.
Work ideology

The work ideology is not natural nor very old.

  • Before the modern era, all cultures thought of work as a means to an end, not an end in itself.
  • Once the modern work ethic was established, working patterns started to shift. Between 1800 and 1900, the average working week shrank from 80 hours to 60 hours, and in the 1970s to roughly 40 hours.
  • In 1979, Bernard Lefkowitz related in his book that people who had given up their jobs reported feelings of "wholeness." During the same period, because wages were high enough, it became possible for most people to work less.
  • During the 80s, work ideology was reimposed by aggressively pro-business governments who were motivated by a desire for social control.
  • By the early 21st century, the work culture seems inescapable.

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    Why We Worry

    The motivation for your worry often comes from past events.

    Alain De Botton explains that this is due to traumatic events from our childhood that were never properly processed.

    How to move on from worry
    Once you recognize the source of your anxieties, you can replace worry with reflection.

    “Appreciating the childhood legacy of worries, we also stand to realize that we can adapt and improve on how we respond to what alarms us.”  -- Philosopher Alain de Botton.

    The status shift
    Busyness proselytizers suggest that Thorstein Veblen’s fin de siècle theory of “conspicuous consumption,” whereby the moneyed class establishes its status through ostentatious spending, has reverse...
    We take on more
    New convenience technologies have never resulted in more leisure time.
    When we reach each new Utopia we're neither closer nor further from a true life of leisure. Rather than offload work, we choose equilibrium, absorbing our gains so as to take on more.
    Working less

    If we ever want to reach a workless society — or at least one where we work less — it won’t do to rely on dispassionate historical or technological forces to bring it about. 

    Instead, we’ll have to get it for ourselves.

    Social Comparison Theory

    Psychology Today describes social comparison theory as, "... determining our own social and personal self-worth based on how we stack up against others we perceive as somehow faring better or worse...

    What Others Think of Us

    As a human being interacting with other human beings, we learn that how we show up in the world seems to matter. 

    If we have learned through our own social experiences that certain patterns of behavior, such as being extraordinarily busy and constantly on-the-go lead to being successful, connected and accepted by others, then we may find it appealing to engage in those behaviors.

    Busy vs. Productive

    Merriam-Webster defines the word productive as, "Yielding results, benefits or profits." Essentially, it means that we have something to show for our hard work. 

    Being busy has to do with an amount of time, where productivity has more to do with our use of time.

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    Motivation and creative work

    Intrinsic motivation is necessary for creative work. We need broad thinking, so we can come up with innovative ideas and see new connections.

    Extrinsic motivation narrows our t...

    Elements of intrinsic motivation

    The 3 elements required for intrinsic motivation:

    • Autonomy: it's about choice - when you believe you have a choice, you're more motivated.
    • Mastery: it's about wanting to get better at something that matters.
    • Purpose: it comes from believing you're working on something that's bigger than yourself.
    Knowing our work helps others

    When we know that our work will make a difference to someone else, it makes us work harder. 

    Try to reach out to the people who directly benefit from your work. This could boost your motivation to work hard.

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    “Most people have no clue what they are doing with their time but still complain that they don’t have enough.”..."

    Grant Cardone

    “When the goal is merely to ‘get through’ the day as quickly as possible, life will pass full of regrets. Time becomes the great taskmaster when it should be the liberator. Time is endured rather than enjoyed.”

    “When the goal is merely to ‘get through’ the day as quickly as possible, life will pass full of regrets. Time becomes the great taskmaster when it should be the liberator. Time is endured rather than enjoyed.”
    Understanding time

    You have all the time in the world if you know how to utilize the time you’re given.

    There are no limits on time. You can complete as much work as you want — if you have the right mindset and environment

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    Recharge yourself physically
    • Take a warm bath. Try using Epsom salt in your bath. 
    • Use an exfoliating scrub to help recharge your body by improving blood circulation.
    • Change your diet...
    Recharge mentally
    • Make a list of your accomplishments
    • Let go of past mistakes
    • Do something fun
    • Take breaks from things and people that bring you down
    • Spend time with close friends and family
    • Meditate or pray
    • Avoid multitasking
    • Take a break from technology
    • Do something artsy
    • Write in a journal
    Why people feel drained

    Most likely, exhaustion is linked to:

    • too much or too little physical activity
    • jetlag or something else that confuses your circadian rhythm
    • insomnia or lack of sleep
    • medications such as antihistamines and cough medicine
    • poor eating habits
    • stress
    • trauma
    • drug or alcohol use
    There are no productivity hacks
    There are no productivity hacks

    Habits and work systems can produce the best return on your time.

    Getting more work done is about knowing what to do, when to do it, and how to get it done in order to maxi...

    Unimportant tasks are really just distractions

    Urgent but unimportant tasks = distractions.

    Urgent tasks put us into constant “reply mode.” Important work is related to planned tasks that move us closer to our goals.

    Interruptions break your flow

    Anytime you are pulled away from your tasks, it takes time to readjust to them when you jump back in (sometimes it can take up to 25 minutes).

    Interruptions (notifications, loud noises, social media, checking email etc.) harm your concentration.

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    Writing helps your memory

    When you take notes, you need to filter external information, summarize it in your head, and then write it down.

    Your brain decides which pieces of information to hang onto for later, part...

    To-do lists and calendars

    Once you write down the tasks you need to perform, you then have to clear space in your day to put some of those tasks onto your calendar.

    This calendar maintenance is itself a useful exercise for fighting the tide of interruptions you’re always facing. It pulls your brain out of a reactive mode and forces you to think about the long term. 

    Planning your goals

    Planning turns abstract goals into concrete work.

    For most people, the challenge is making sure we get the big-picture projects done, those that make work fulfilling. And it's hard to achieve them without breaking them into a coherent set of concrete actions you can take on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.