What Drives our Busyness?

April 20, 2008 7:19 pm Published by

I took some time off this weekend to “do nothing” — more than usual, at least. So Friday night, I went to a baseball game (to me that is pretty close to doing nothing!) with my family and hung out with some friends. After doing some chores on Saturday, I went fishing for a while (a more correct description would be “beating the water and losing lures”), went to a movie, and then hung out in the nice Spring evening shooting the breeze with some friends. And today, I helped my wife do some gardening, did some reading, and took a walk in the woods.

To be honest, I needed to do nothing. I was (am?) pretty emotionally worn out and needed some mental space. I kept asking Kathy, “Why am I so tired?” and she started listing off the various projects I am involved in. And I said, “Oh, yea.” So I kept choosing to rest, piddle, and slow down. And it was interesting this weekend, as I interacted with others, a lot of people said, “I’m really tired.”

And it made me think, “Why are we so busy?” What drives our busyness? So, obviously, the starting point is to look at my life — what drives me? why do I choose activity versus rest? Why do I fill my schedule full? Lest those of you who know me well start to write and tell me why, my goal isn’t to do a full self psychoanalysis here. But I will share some thoughts that are relevant both to me — some in the past, some in the present — and others I know.

It seems a large part of our busyness — whether it is work-related, or family-driven — is driven by fear. Fear of “falling behind”. Fear of not knowing something important that we think we should know. Being afraid that we are going to miss out on some opportunity. Being anxious that our kids are going to be “behind” — in academics, in sports, socially, with regards to the latest gadget.

I observe the phenomenon frequently in youth sports. We are starting our children to participate in organized sports at earlier and earlier ages — T-ball, basketball, soccer, etc. — largely because we don’t want our kids to be “left behind” and not be competitive later in life. Reality check: Many successful athletes did not start playing their sport until junior high or high school. And many middle school and high school athletes, who are quite gifted, are dropping out of sports due to burn out.

Just this weekend, a friend who coaches his kids’ soccer team asked me if my son played in select club tournaments when he was 9 or 10. My son, who was an All-State soccer player in high school, didn’t start playing soccer until middle school. The father replied, “That settles it. I’m not sacrificing my weekends with my family for tournaments at this age.” Bravo. (I’m surprised we don’t have leagues where parents push their children around the field in strollers so they “will get the feel of the game.”)

But I see it in business, too. Someone sees or hears a spot on the news, or reads an article or blog, about “successful businesses do xyz” and all of a sudden they come to the management team and say, “We need to be doing xyz. Everyone is doing it and if we don’t, we’ll be left behind the competition.” It is like chasing money market returns from last year. It looks good, so let’s go after it.

Now there is a type of busyness that comes from a high drive to achieve. These people often have high energy levels, are goal-oriented, and want to be “successful” — however, that may be defined in their field of expertise (including parenting). Not to get too psychoanalytical here, but sometimes these people’s drive for achievement can be rooted in fear, too. Often the drivenness comes from earlier life experiences that they don’t want to experience again (this was common for Depression-era entrepreneurs). And sometimes it just seems to be the person’s personality type.

But when busyness creates physical lack of wellness due to not taking care of oneself, or when your schedule is so full you have virtually no time or emotional energy to invest in relationships (family and/or friends), or you just don’t have the mental or emotional energy to do “it” anymore, then it is time to do some self-reflection.

It seems to me that a few well-placed actions can help stem the tide against our culture of busyness.

1. Be clear about your goals. What do you want in life? What are your business goals? What are your goals for your children? If you don’t clarify your goals, then you are at risk for being driven by the latest fad that blows by.

2. Set like-minded people around you. We all need support. And our culture — through the media, our neighbors, our coworkers, and our competitors — give us seemingly hundreds of messages a day that we need to be going faster, working harder, doing more, etc. We need a cadre of friends, colleagues and compatriots who have similar values and goals to be “reality checks” for us, to serve as examples in their lives, and to help us weather the forces we are moving against.

3. Create structures in your life that facilitate accomplishing your goals. If you want to get in better shape physically, it makes sense to structure exercise into your week. If you want to have good family relationships, then you better schedule time together that allows for talking about what is going on in your lives. If you want to have a profitable business that provides excellent services, then you better have mechanisms in place to measure profitability and the quality of services provided. Additionally, existing structure creates resistance to distractibility. If I have a meeting every Monday at 9 a.m. with my team that is core to our business plan, then that is a barrier to scheduling something else at that time that may not be as important.

Most of us are busy. Many of us are busier than we want to be (myself included). So, we (I) need to take some responsibility for our lives and ask ourselves: If I am busier than I want to be, what is driving me to make the decisions to keep so busy?


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April 20, 2008 7:19 pm

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