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‘Busyness’: An Alluring but Toxic Behaviour

‘Your beliefs become your thoughts.

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions’

Your actions become your habits’

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.’

Mahatma Ghandi

 

How often do you try to contact someone to speak with them only to hear ‘I’m sorry I’m not here to take your call, please leave a message and I will get back to you?’

If you are honest, you are probably still waiting.

Emails are often a no better a means, for these are similarly left unanswered.

You may of course be trying to speak with your boss or a supplier or even trying to collaboratively solve a problem that needs resolving. Good luck.

It really doesn’t matter, for many of these people do not realise that they are behaving rudely as they don’t understand that they are actually victims of ‘busyness’ – a habit of personal behaviour that is actually both highly dysfunctional and a killer to relationships.

‘Busyness’ is a relatively new word in the lexicon of ‘business-speak’ having entered it in during the last decade. A quick search of the internet gives the following definitions: ‘the state of being or appearing to be actively engaged in an activity’; ‘the quality or condition of being busy’; ‘lively but meaningless activity’; and ‘foolishly or intrusively active’.

These all fittingly describe the ‘busyness’ concept that has come about through the colliding trinity of modern life: the internet, social media, and consumerism. ‘Busyness’ is not only a seductive trap but a difficult one to get out of once in it, for it’s toxicity meets a simple modern personal need, that is:

Busy = Important.

Far too many people, particularly business leaders, are caught up in ‘busyness bubbles’. The fascinating thing is that not only do many people not recognise this but many actually boast actually about it to colleagues and friends – they are proud of it and many wear their ‘busyness bubble’ as a ‘badge of honour’.

The implicit notion of ‘busyness’ is that if you are not in back-to-back meetings all day; have a diary that cannot fit-in an appointment for days (even better if it is weeks!); and a phone that does not stop ‘going off’ then you are simply, ‘not important enough’.

‘Busyness’ is about being in demand, needed, and wanted, for unless we are seen to be this person – the one who working all hours for the organisation and going ‘beyond and above the call of duty’ – we don’t belong.

‘Busyness’ fits the human ‘hard wired’ need ‘to belong’, underpinned by the ‘loss aversion’ fear of ‘missing out’ that resides inside us all, for not being ‘included’ can ‘burn inside us’ even when our ‘being included’ could essentially be a total waste of time.

Once we are enticed into the delusion of ‘busyness’ where we can be seen as important; heroic; seemingly make choices of whom we see and when or just ‘ignore’; be included in only ‘very important’ meetings, we have ‘arrived’ and ‘made it’. What is there not to love about that?

Let’s explore that illusion.

The seductive clutches of ‘busyness’ are a trap into which we can easily fall where we may think we are meeting our wishes of importance etc., but unfortunately we are essentially meeting the needs and whims of others; we have got our priorities wrong and have prioritised work that most probably should be done by others but ‘hey, we’re the hero’ so go for it!

Significantly, if we stand back – and put aside ‘busyness’ for a moment – we will soon realise that we have been enticed to embrace a set of ‘skewed’ beliefs that will at some stage leave us finding ourselves stressed; unfocused; short-tempered; and distracted. Without knowing, we have actually become inefficient, ineffective and as likely to fail as succeed.

Ultimately, like all bubbles a ‘busyness bubble’ bursts which costs both the organisation and the individual, many of whom seek medical help.

Doctors increasingly report of the growing number of patients attending their surgeries with the conditions of fatigue; irritability; insomnia; anxiety; headaches; heartburn; bowel disturbances; back pain; and depressive feelings. Unfortunately, doctors are in the main unable to help, for many of these symptoms are not an illness but the manifestation of ‘busyness’ – the ill effects of habit.

A habit is a routine behaviour that we learn and unconsciously regularly repeat whether it is a good or a bad one. The problem is that individuals and habits are all different with the challenge being that there is no simple or single formula for changing a habit1. Each habit requires a different approach to changing it, for each habit is rooted in one or more of the beliefs we have towards or about something.

Changing beliefs – the key to any habit change – whilst we are under the influence of the habit, and with ‘busyness’ remember this is about where we spend five days out of seven and where we may even extend it beyond normal working hours into our personal time (and of course look really important!) is problematic, particularly given that research shows that diligent habit change can take

66 days to effect2. When you’re in the grip of ‘busyness’ who has the diligence, discipline, and the time to change a habit?

Few organisations are aware of ‘busyness’ and consequently recognise its negative affect on relationships and the effects this has with peers, those they ostensibly lead, and other organisations with whom they may be looking to conduct business or collaboratively work with in a supply chain.

Leaders and organisations need to take on board the words of Gandhi, for beliefs can take you down a good behavioural route but they can just as easily take you down a bad one.

In future months we will be looking at other beliefs and behaviours that impact Collaboration and Collaborative Working. Meanwhile why not take a moment to look at our Collaboration Research  that shows key belief and behaviours in the Construction Sector that impact effective Collaboration between organisations.

1 Duligg, C. (2012) ‘The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business’, Random House, London.

2 Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012) ‘Making health habitual: The psychology of ‘habit formation’ and general practice’, British Journal of General Practice, 62, pp 664-666

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