How Busyness Obstructs Our Potential

Have you noticed how addicted to busyness we all are? Why is that? Why do we feel the need to do more, go faster, work longer hours, be more productive? When we are off work, our minds are still racing through a thousand thoughts - we remember something we forgot to do, we ruminate over the smallest details, we rehearse the meeting we have tomorrow, we check our email as soon as we wake up, and last thing at night. We attend ALL the meetings, even though we know it will mean working late or starting early. We keep pushing ourselves harder. 

And in spite of all this effort and commitment, and attention, we still lay in bed at night worrying if we have done enough. How am I being perceived? Am I being impactful enough?

It can feel relentless. Like a hamster on a wheel; the faster the hamster moves, the faster the wheel spins, the more hamster runs to keep up. But who is really setting the pace here, the wheel or the hamster? 

Stress, tension, and worry are all born out of this feeling of busyness. And busyness is born out of a fear of not having enough time to do all the things we feel we need to do. So like the hamster on the wheel, it feels like it's the wheel that's setting the pace, and so we run faster and faster to try and keep up. 

When we feel out of control of the pace, that's when we start to feel resentful, frustrated, we become annoyed at the people who 'waste our time'. We sit in meetings and multi-task. We have one on ones with our employees and think about a million other things while trying to listen to them. It's just another problem to be solved. Another thing I have to sort out. Another meeting I have to go to, while all the time, my instant messenger is ringing, distracting me to think about another problem.

We get addicted to being busy because it feels like validation, a confirmation of our importance, and our value. The busier we are, the more successful we feel. I used to wear my busyness like a badge of honor. I would be proud when I told people how much I had on my plate, how many hours I was working. It was a status symbol. But all of this busyness has a profound impact on your performance, across all aspects of life. Stress, tension, and worry are the equivalent of carrying 100lb weight on your back while trying to run a marathon. It's distracting. We spend all our time thinking about how heavy it is. Will I ever be able to do this? Is it worth it? It takes our mind away from focusing on the pace, the scenery, the achievement, and the progress we are making.

Busyness equals a busy mind. It distracts us from the here and now. We are thinking about the next thing, while still trying to complete the task in front of us. It makes us very insular, it clouds our creativity, our curiosity, and our ability to make meaningful connections with others. In short, it limits our potential. When we are on the go all the time, we can't see the wood for the trees. It’s like driving a car at full speed with a windscreen covered in mud. It’s not conducive to high performance.

So what do you do instead?

I know it's counterintuitive because your mind is screaming at you to go faster, but slowing down is the answer.

  • Multitasking is a fallacy. You can only do one thing at a time.  Give your full attention to the thing you are doing. If you go to a meeting, go to the meeting and be present. Slow down. Listen. What is really going on here, why are we having this meeting, what’s the broader context, does everyone have clarity around the intent and purpose of this meeting? Is this a valuable use of my time? If everyone showed up to meetings fully present and engaged, chances are you will need fewer touchpoints to gain agreement.

  • In a one-on-one? Give the person you are with the gift of your attention. Connect with them, get curious. Listen. What do they need? What are they really asking for? They will feel valued and heard and understood and chances are, they will leave that meeting with the clarity and support they came looking for.

  • Trying to work something out and getting stuck in analysis paralysis? Go for a walk, take a shower, get a coffee. When we stop trying to work it out, we disengage our intellect and that creates the space for fresh thought to come through. We naturally gain a more expansive perspective when we step away from it.

Why does slowing down work?

When you realize you can only do one thing well at a time, you start to become much more focused and selective on what that one thing is. Where can I direct my attention that is going to have the most impact, or bring the most value? When we try to do it all, we are essentially throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks. It's not strategic or effective. It’s reactive. You are letting the wheel set the pace.

When we bring our full presence to something, we listen more deeply, we see more clearly, we gain a more expansive perspective. The clearer our mind is, the less it’s filled with busy, frantic thoughts, the more we can tune into common sense. Common sense or wisdom is not born out of our intellect. The more we slow down, the more space we create for reflection and it’s in a reflective, open mind that wisdom comes through, and the quieter our mind, the more capacity we have to notice when it does.

When we move with a little more intention and attention, we are less reactive. Rather than sailing through high seas in a dinghy that gets bounced around by every wave, we become a sturdy ship that can cut through the ocean and stay on course. We feel calm, we take our time to respond, we notice things.

The more I disconnect from my busy mind, my intellect, and my stressful thinking, the more I tune into a more powerful source of ideas. My perspective, my consciousness naturally elevate when I slow down. I start to notice the abundance of ideas and solutions available to me right now, in this moment. When we are fully present to the here and now, we focus all of our creative potential on what’s in front of us and we are at our most effective and powerful.

One thing I have noticed is how much clearer my mind is when I am more intentional and present. Relationships are better. I am calmer and less reactive. I pause more. I reflect. I consider. I also have a lot more trust in myself. I have gathered evidence to support that trust. I know from experience that when I am fully present to the thing I am doing, I have access to an abundance of ideas and solutions. It’s allowed me to worry less about stuff. I know I will work it out in the moment.

I invite you to see what difference it makes to you this next week. Test it out for yourself. Slow down, take a break from trying to work everything out, take your foot off the gas and be more intentional about where you direct your attention. See what difference it makes when you take a rest from trying to work something out, what new ideas come through when you take your mind off the problem.

Life is not a race. Life is being lived, here, right now in this moment. The more present we are, the more we notice the life we are living and who we are being in it.

Author: Melanie Hopwood

Melanie Hopwood is the Founder of The Restorative Coach. She is a certified professional coach, accredited through the ICF, and consultant. Connect with Melanie via email or LinkedIn. This article was first featured on the blog.

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