Do you feel like your ‘to-do’ list is never-ending? HFG reports on simple ways to help bring your life back into balance.
Something odd is happening in our daily lives. Have you noticed, almost every time you ask someone “How are you?”, their response, no matter what they do for a living, is always the same: “I’m so busy”.
But ‘busy’ is not actually a description of how you are, it’s really about what you’re doing. ‘Busy’ has almost become a default psychological state for many, and it can have negative consequences for your health.
But how busy are we really — and if we are truly busy to the point where it's affecting our health, what can we do? Find out how to break the busy cycle!
Good busy vs bad busy
Busyness is something that life coach Louise Thompson sees all the time in the clients at her practice. “I think the key is to look at whether it’s ‘good busy’ or ‘bad busy’,” she says.
Thompson says being busy isn’t always a bad thing. Being absorbed in a task or fully occupied in something productive can be hugely fulfilling. It produces what psychologists call ‘flow’ — that feeling of complete absorption and focus which leads to great feelings of satisfaction.
On the other hand, ‘bad busy’ is when you’re overwhelmed, distracted, and your thoughts are scattered. You feel like you’ll never get through your to-do list, and you’re just trying to make it through the week, one day at a time. This is the kind of busy that causes stress.
“Bad busy is an increasingly common state,” says Thompson. “Many in the digital age feel they’re constantly juggling work, home, family, social and community obligations.
Bad busy is crammed with too many obligations, over-commitment, trying to please too many people — and putting yourself last.” We run from one thing to another all day long before rushing home for food and sleep. It's no wonder we feel tired all the time! Fatigue and stress are extremely common symptoms of modern life.
Tips for a balanced life
Place limits on when you respond to calls or emails, or when you log in from home.
Listen to your partner’s concern about your long work hours, and invest in quality time with your loved ones.
Rest periods are vital to recharge your batteries, so regularly set aside time to focus on yourself.
Restructure your hours
Discuss with your employer the possibility of working flexible hours, such as 8am to 4pm, instead of 9am to 5pm.
The ‘badge of busyness’
While we often think of busyness as unavoidable, we also use it as a status symbol or badge of honour.
Researchers recently found that many Americans rate a person’s social status as higher when they perceive the person has a very busy schedule.
“The more you believe success is based on hard work, the more you tend to think that people who skip leisure and work all the time are of higher standing,” the study reported.
The researchers’ analysis of so-called ‘humblebrag’ posts on social media showed something similar. “A substantial number of these brags relate to long hours of work and to a lack of leisure time,” they said.
The humblebrag — “It was worth it not to sleep to get all my deadlines nailed! #sleepwhenyouredead”— aims to draw both sympathy and envy from the reader. It shows how we can feel overwhelmed by how busy we are, but also worry when we’re not.
Finding work-life balance
Australians like to think of themselves as some of the most laid-back people in the world, but statistics reveal that in the lucky country we’re often stressed out and time poor.
The notion of a standard work week — eight-hour days, five-day weeks — hasn’t been the norm for a long time. Although the average number of hours worked per week has decreased during the past 30 years, 20 per cent of men and 7 per cent of women work at least 50 hours per week.
When we go home from work, a lot of us have trouble switching off. A 2018 survey found some Australians are spending more time online than working. Yet a raft of research proves that working longer hours doesn’t necessarily produce more work output.
So, how do we achieve that elusive work-life balance? Well, it all depends on what balance means to you. A 2016 survey revealed several different interpretations of work-life balance, but for a third of us it means flexible working hours, along with the ability at times to work from home.
Technology to the rescue
Technology has also changed our use of time in drastic ways. Since at least 2010 the smartphone has become ubiquitous in our lives. Many of us are ‘on duty’ even if we're not at work — finding ourselves obligated to respond to emails and calls at any time of the day or night.
Social media use, too, has now become a constant, time-consuming part of everyday life. But technology is not just a one-way street — in many ways it has freed up huge slabs of our time.
“Look at washing machines and dishwashers,” Thompson says. “My granny used to have Monday as ‘wash day’ and it would take the entire day. We are so unbelievably lucky to have so much technology at our disposal — technology that has saved us so much time and energy.”
We should have ended up with more free time, not less — but that’s not necessarily the case.
“It’s what we are using that extra time for that’s the issue,” Thompson suggests. “Are we using the time purposefully to connect in real life with people who are important to us, to exercise more … or are we aimlessly checking Facebook multiple times a day and getting sucked into comparison-itis?” We could use that time to create the space and balance we seek, Thompson says.
Health effects of ‘too much to do’
Busyness can harm your health in many ways. Feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed can induce anxiety, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and even obesity.
There’s emerging evidence that stress affects our gut bacteria. Being stressed can also mean we don’t make a priority of eating well and exercising, which in turn makes us feel more stressed and overwhelmed, locking us into a cycle.
How to break the busy cycle
Feel like you need a moment to catch your breath?
Here’s where to start to regain some balance and perspective.
Write a list and prioritise
Putting your to-do list down on paper can really help. Be aware that you’re likely to feel more anxious and stressed if you feel you’ll never get to the end of the list, so think realistically about how long a task will take, and allocate that much time. Fulfilling fewer tasks in a day is better than having a long list of unachievable goals.
Learn to say no
Once you’ve written your to-do list, think about the things on it you really need to do. We often perform the same tasks over and over, whether they’re important or not. When more tasks come along we just add them to the list. Examine your day and remove the tasks that aren’t productive. “The brutal truth is you may not have a time problem, what you've got is a priority problem,” says Thompson, who recommends saying ‘no’ to some things you thought you had to do.
Once you’ve prioritised what’s important, aim to be consistent. Keep making those choices that support life balance. It’s exactly the same as healthy eating. “You don’t just eat one salad for lunch and you’ve nailed healthy eating,” Thompson says. “It’s about the food that you consistently choose to eat every meal over the long term.”
Spend time offline
Email and social media can be very distracting. So, if you have something important you need to focus on, turn off your email. Using an auto-reply can be hugely liberating: Try “I’m working on a deadline at present and won’t be checking my emails regularly. I’ll come back to you at the end of the day”. Most people will slowly adjust their expectations about when you’ll get back to them. Remember, social media will always be there when you have time to go back to it.
Make time for exercise
The de-stressing benefits of exercise are well established. Even when it seems you don’t have time, make some form of exercise your priority — it will pay off. Try scheduling it into your diary or calendar, like you would an appointment. Moving your body can do wonders for your mental state and help you become more productive.
Stop saying “I’m busy”
It’s a subtle psychological shift, but when you begin to stop telling yourself and others how busy you are, it can help you feel calmer and, strangely, less busy. Think of other answers to the question “How are you?”
You can’t function without proper sleep, so it’s worth prioritising. Thinking that you can catch up through longer sleeps later on in the week, or even during the weekend, is a myth, according to the sleep experts. Aim for at least seven hours a night, and keep sleep and wake times the same, even during weekends.
Tech help to de-stress
Instead of scrolling through Facebook in your downtime, download one of these apps to help you unwind.