“I don’t know where I’m going to find the time!”
“I’m so busy these days I can barely find time to breathe!”
“Who has time for a hobby? I’m busy enough as it is!”
You’ve probably uttered one or more of these phrases at some point in your working life, or at least something similar to them. Singaporeans as a whole are notorious workaholics. In fact, it’s the second most overworked city in the world, according to a recent survey by Kisi earlier this year. The same survey also ranked Singapore among the bottom 8 countries (out of 40) for work life balance, and the 2nd highest in the world in terms of work intensity.
Everyone is busy, busy, busy. Where in the past, being idle was a desirable status symbol, today, it’s being insanely busy that’s an indicator of success and status. Being busy, it turns out, is just a fact of modern life, one just as undeniable as observing that the sky is blue. Is all this busyness, though, helping or hurting us in the end?
Not all kinds of “busy-ness” are equal: being busy doesn’t immediately equate to better productivity. When you’re just “so crazy busy”, you’re constantly exhausted, but at the same time, you don’t know where all your time and energy goes.
In other words, you feel as trapped as a hamster running on a perpetually turning wheel. The simple truth is you’ve lost focus amidst all the busy-ness. Here’s why that can be so harmful for you at work and in life.
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The most obvious consequence of the cult of busy-ness is skyrocketing stress levels. There’s enough data out there to show how detrimental job burnout can be. The problem, however, is not that people don’t know that being overworked is bad for our well-being.
It’s that we think there’s no other way of maintaining the same performance and productivity levels without being that stressed. Put simply, we’ve accepted overwork and overstress as a permanent, inescapable condition of success at work and in life. The reality, though, is that it’s only a temporary affliction, and an entirely manageable one, given the right systems.
Call it solitude, call it alone time; however you refer to it, you need it. In fact, the busier you are, the more dire the need is for it. As a 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review opined, “the busier you are, the more you need quiet time.”
Giving yourself the breathing space to clear your mental headspace is something most people look at as a luxury, but it’s actually a necessity, especially for knowledge workers. Problem-solving, decision-making, creativity and innovation, leadership: all of these necessitate intellectual acuity and mental clarity. The more cluttered and haphazard your thoughts are, the more difficult it is to extract good ideas, think systematically, or organise your thought process.
Ultimately, if you’re too busy to give yourself a few minutes of quiet time in a day, you might unintentionally be penalising your performance at work, day in and day out.
When you’re so used to being busy, it becomes almost like a compulsion: every empty slot in your schedule needs to be filled and every item on your infinitely expanding daily task list must be checked off. It’s all too easy, when you’re at this point, to end up focusing too much on the minutiae while foregoing the bigger picture.
In other words, you’re mistaking the forest for the trees, and failing not just to prioritise, but to be strategic and focused about moving towards your goals.
Beyond all the to-do lists and the rushing back and forth, people often neglect to ask themselves the most important question: is all of this really helping me get closer to my goals, or have I lost focus on what I want to achieve and where I want to be at work and in life?
Of all the things that keep you busy, how many of them are really getting you closer to where you want to be, and how many aren’t serving that purpose?