• Barbie Winterbottom

Addicted to Busy IV - Less Isn't Lazy

For all the overachieving, exhausted Busy addicts out there, read on! There is hope for us all!!

In previous articles we have reviewed a few angles of being “Addicted to Busy” and what drives us there. Using “busy” as a status symbol, trying to attain the façade of perfection and working ourselves into the ground now for the long-term perceived benefit of simplicity and retirement are some of what we have covered.

We have identified several drivers and now it’s time to look at a few practical approaches to changing the “busy” habit and letting go of this addiction. I use the words habit and addicted/addiction because by definition, they are appropriate.

Habit- a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

Addicted- exhibiting a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity.

So, if we look at “busy” like any other habit, we may begin to understand why it is so difficult to just stop. Habits are formed by triggering the brains reward centers. We develop habits, both good and bad as a result of taking an action and being rewarded for that action.

Dr. Russell Poldrack, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas at Austin states, “The general machinery by which we build both kinds of habits are the same, whether it’s a habit for overeating or a habit for getting to work without really thinking about the details”.

There is one distinct difference, however, and this difference makes the pleasure-based habits so much harder to break. Enjoyable or perceived enjoyable behaviors can prompt our brains to release a chemical called dopamine. “If you do something over and over, and dopamine is there when you’re doing it, that strengthens the habit even more. When you’re not doing those things, dopamine creates the craving to do it again,” Poldrack says. “This explains why some people crave drugs, even if the drug no longer makes them feel particularly good once they take it.”

Think about that for just a moment. We often continue unhealthy habits, not because of the actual “thing”-like the drug, but as a result of the craving for the dopamine our brains release.

Understanding this however, gives us tremendous power. If we are truly seeking the dopamine release and, as an example, not the status of being “important” (where we fill every moment with activity to create the illusion of being important and in demand), then we have the ability to break this addiction and the frustration and exhaustion it often delivers.

One way to do this is to reframe the way we look at activity, productivity and ultimately, success.

We live in a culture that rewards activity over results and sacrifice over productivity. This reward system contributes to the story we tell ourselves that resting and relaxation is lazy…when in reality, the exact opposite is true. Less is NOT laziness. Less meaningless work is not lazy at all, it’s incredibly smart and has significant benefits. Less meaningless work allows our brain to clear out the clutter and focus on the important things. Less meaningless work allows us to feel purposeful and connected vs frustrated and disconnected.

Perhaps if we also start recognizing time as currency we will also begin to view our minutes and days with the reverence they deserve, as the one thing we simply cannot make more of, is time. If every time we thought about an action or activity in terms the how much time it was going to cost us, we might quickly start changing our behaviors.

While it may seem daunting, we can start by replacing unhealthy habits, like busy work, with healthy habits. This might mean replacing the habit of checking your email and phone every 15 seconds throughout the day, causing a constant state of distraction, less impactful work and fewer meaningful connections, with setting aside dedicated time each morning or evening to respond to emails. You may want to inform others and set response time expectations with your team and leaders, especially if they are conditioned to expect an immediate response from you. Perhaps you can create a protocol to allow your team a way to identify if something is absolutely urgent and needs your attention right now vs the typical email that is rarely urgent.

This type of change can replace the dopamine rush we feel when seeing emails enter and exit our inbox, with a dopamine rush and deeper connections from an uninterrupted, meaningful conversation with a co-worker or direct report AND you may also realize that many of those formerly urgent emails and problems that “need your immediate attention” tend to sort themselves out by the end of the day and you have likely saved yourself time and energy.

Tim Ferriss, in his New York Times best selling book, The 4-Hour Workweek, shares an example of how, early in his career, he exceeded all sales goals and the most (until then) successful sales person on the team by quickly recognizing barriers to achieving his goals and working smarter to avoid them. In this example, Tim was instructed to take the phone book and start with the letter “A” and make cold calls for 8 hours each day to net needed sales. Tim quickly identified that between the hours of 8:30am and 5:30pm, he rarely got through to the decision makers and his sales were dismal. So, instead, Tim started making calls from 8-8:30am and then again from 5:30-6pm and in doing so was able to get directly to the decision makers (vs the gatekeeper) and his sales skyrocketed. He was able to exceed all goals in 1/8th the time by identifying a barrier, creating a solution and working smarter, freeing up 7 hours each workday.

I love this example as we often get so stuck in our daily habits that we fail to look for alternative solutions and so we go on auto-pilot and end up feeling frustrated and empty.

Regardless of why we are “Addicted to Busy”, it is possible to change the way in which we live our lives, at work and at home and we can let go of our unhealthy addiction. We may not be able to make sweeping changes all at once, but a series of small changes, will create a big impact and lead to a healthier life, more meaningful connections and a deeper sense of self and belonging.

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