The Busy Epidemic - Part 1

Updated: Mar 12, 2021


As I begin to write this blog, on why everyone has become so busy, I am conscious that I am behind schedule.

The irony is that I have been too busy to write it!

The second irony is that I am a high achiever that gets a buzz out of doing lots, loves helping others, and is always on the look-out for ways to learn and grow. You could say that I am a bit of busy kind of person!

Who am I to write about understanding and tackling excessive busy-ness?

Honestly, I am someone who is naturally rubbish at it. I have had to learn how to manage myself and my day, in order to stop the negative aspects of the busy epidemic knocking at my door.

As I take a mindful look at what’s on my action list, there are indeed some events and deadlines looming. There is also a laundry list of activities that are of variable importance -and is the world really going to stop turning if I don’t accomplish them all today?

Unlikely. But that hasn’t stopped me slipping into busy mode where both my body and mind are receiving a – not so healthy – dose of stress hormones. The more I get done, the more I want to get done. Enjoying the buzz of ploughing through the ‘to do’ list, bouncing from task to task whilst ignoring the signs that I am overdoing it. Rushing, pushing through tiredness, dipping in and out of overwhelm and feeling the call of caffeine or sugar.

Okay so I am exaggerating, but you may relate to at times feeling like this?

Whilst there are always going to be genuinely busy periods, the challenge, for some, is that every period may seem like an excessively busy one.

Busy can become a habit, a way of living, that can bring with it many unwanted side effects including feeling overwhelmed, inadequate and exhausted all the time.

Maybe you are naturally great at striking the delicate balance between managing your desires and demands, whilst managing your wellbeing at the same time.

Perhaps you think that saying you’re busy is simply a made-up term for those who believe it makes them seem important. Or for those that use it as an excuse for getting out of invitations, or from having to take on additional activities.

Or maybe you are like me, in that your nature makes you susceptible to over doing it.

Whichever camp you live in, I hope you find these articles interesting and insightful in understanding and gaining some control over the busy epidemic.

Why is everyone so busy?

It used to be that when greeting someone you might say, “how are you?” and the auto-response would be “I’m fine thanks”. Now it’s more likely to be “I’m busy” followed by a hefty sigh.

So, what has changed and what is everyone doing to make them so busy?

It’s an interesting question and one many of us are struggling to get a personal handle on.

The obvious answer is that we have more to do and less time to do it. In reality, this is not necessarily the case.

  • The amount of time we have available each day has not changed

  • The amount of time employees are required to spend at work has not increased in recent times

  • Modern-day appliances have minimised time spent on household chores

  • Food has gone fast and convenient with dinner on the table in record time

  • The amount of time available for leisure activities, and to spend with family and friends, has apparently increased

  • Technology has meant that we get to purchase smarter and faster, and have it delivered to the door in record time

  • Information is readily available and if we need to find out anything we can simply ‘Google it’ or ask Alexa

So, if life is allegedly getting easier, or at least not getting any harder, then why are so many people feeling that there are not enough hours in the day?

One theory is that the world has become limitless and the information, options and choices available to us are also limitless.

Is it then our individual ability, or inability, to decide what we want and to set boundaries, in a limitless world, that is driving the busy epidemic?

In doing some research for this blog, I came across an article in The Times, which told the story of the tragic loss of a 21-year old intern who experienced a seizure after working a 72-hour stint. Whilst a seizure can just happen, exhaustion may well have been a contributing factor. Following his death, a review was completed of his workload. It was found that there was no apparent reason to warrant the excessively long hours worked. Other than perhaps a culture of ambition and a desire to perform.

Whilst this is an extreme example, it highlights how personal drivers and characteristics can play as significant a role, as demands and responsibilities, in how busy a person is.

Another area for consideration is the utilisation and reliance on technology that has brought with it a limitless amount of modern-day white noise.

  • Newsletters, articles, offers, requests to review services and the junk mail that plagues inboxes

  • Connecting, communicating and following hundreds of people, most of whom you wouldn’t know if you passed them in the street

  • Ploughing through endless social media feeds

  • Checking messages, reading and responding to requests day and night

  • Shopping, doing admin and banking 24 x 7

  • Multiple mediums of communication and applications that result in never-ending notifications and pings

  • ‘Numbing-out’ in front of the TV, flicking through channels or playing video games

The list goes on and you probably have a few more you can add that keep you on the hamster wheel?

Again, isn’t it a personal choice how much time and energy is spent on these types of activities?

I doubt that most people set out to dedicate so much of their day to being busy, whilst compromising their wellbeing and enjoyment of life. But without taking the time to plan and set boundaries, in a noisy and limitless world, this may have become an unconscious choice.

Modern life has allowed the edges between doing and downtime to become incredibly blurred. Days can so easily be extended to try and get it all done, well past the point of being fully productive and where wellbeing can be maintained.

Rushing from task to task and through life without a clear plan can chew up already depleted energy, leaving you running out of time and running out of steam.

I liken this to operating in crisis mode and for me it is the driving force behind the busy epidemic.

How much time is busy saving you?

We have all heard the story of the tortoise and the hare or the phrase, “less haste more speed”.

But one I heard recently, from someone who did a speed awareness course, really brought this home to me and got me to explore the concept in more detail.

If you were to set out on a 60-mile journey by car at an average speed of 70 miles per hour, versus 80 miles per hour or 90 miles per hour, how much time would you save?

Ignoring traffic conditions, at 70 miles per hour you would reach your destination in 51.4 minutes, 80 miles per hour in 45 minutes and 90 miles per hour in 40 minutes. So, the answer is not a lot.1

Being in busy mode can result in feeling that you need to rush, or in this case speed, but this seldom yields dividends. Rather just the feelings associated with being under pressure and stressed. Not to mention in this instance the possible unwanted invitation to attend a speed awareness course yourself, or worse.

Slowing down can be challenging if you have a habit of rushing, and may seem counterproductive. However, in the absence of stress hormones pumping, both the mind and body function more optimally; this in itself will enable you to get more done and to feel better whilst you are doing it.

A good question to ask yourself, if you catch yourself speeding through life, is “Am I rushing because I am busy or am I busy because I am rushing?”

How to counteract the busy epidemic?

In a limitless world that has no boundaries – how do you begin to better manage your time and wellbeing more effectively?

There will always be periods in life where, no matter how good you are at managing yourself and your time, it will be difficult, if not impossible, not to be busy. But for the most part, there is plenty that can be done.

We have seen that the reasons for operating in busy mode can be both individual and complex, perhaps driven by: –

  • The desire to be successful

  • To be enough

  • To be of service

  • To gain reward and recognition

  • To keep up with others

  • Or simply to keep up with the fast pace of the modern world

Understanding, or deepening your understanding of, your personal drivers may be a useful exercise in beginning to tackle it.

For the purpose of this blog, I am going to invite you this week and next to consider ten ways of conducting yourself and your day that, if required, may help you to: –

  • Break the cycle of busy

  • Enhance your wellbeing and effectiveness

You may also learn a little more about yourself along the way! This week’s blog covers the first step – understanding how you spend your time – and then next week we will look at ways to find more time!

  1. Understand how you spend your time

Each one of us has the same amount of time allotted to us each day – fact.

Once you take away the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep, allow time for the essentials like eating, hydrating and going to the bathroom, we each have about 14 hours a day left to play with.

Might sound obvious, but a great way to start to understand how you can better manage your time is to get a handle on how you are actually spending it. The best way to do this I find is to create a time diary.

Over a normal week, or two, document exactly how you spend your time.

Doesn’t need to be anything fancy – just a notebook, where you can record your daily activities and sleep time, will do the trick. Or if you want to be more structured in your approach, you might like to create a 24-hour table in 30-60 minute increments that you fill out each day.

Look out for the following and more:

  • Are you more energetic and get more done on certain days of the week or in the morning or afternoons?

  • Which activities do you gravitate towards first or leave until the last minute?

  • Do you take on more than you are able to cope with and if so why?

  • How much time do you spend writing and rewriting lists or paper shuffling?

  • Do you have ‘dead time’ in the day, for instance time on public transport?

  • How much time do you spend on white noise or time-wasting activities?

  • Where do you compromise your wellbeing and effectiveness, such as not taking breaks, not taking on the right fuel, not getting enough exercise or sleep?

  • Do you make time for the people you care about and the things that matter to you?

  • Do you find it challenging when you are quiet and there is space to just “be”?

A time diary can be a great way to understand how you spend your time. It can also be a powerful way of observing your habits and patterns, when energy is highest, time wasting activities, strengths and areas for improvement.

In the second part of this blog, we will look at ways to find more time.

These blogs were written for Cytoplan with part 1 available on their website:


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