The Downside to Being Busy
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We’ve been led to believe that being busy – even frenetically so – is a good thing. People who are busy consider it a virtue. They believe it enhances their social status and self-worth.
I was in that category for most of my life.
But does being busy always equate with being productive?
Does it come with a downside?
A study from Iceland
A fascinating study from Iceland reached a surprising result: Working less doesn’t impact productivity.
The study assessed the performance of 2,500 employees in Iceland who had reduced their work week from 40 to 35 or 36 hours, without a reduction in pay.
It found that “participating workers took on fewer hours and enjoyed greater well-being, improved work-life balance and a better cooperative spirit in the workplace – all while maintaining existing standards of performance and productivity.”
The impact of the study was profound. Since the study, 86% of Iceland’s working population (of 196,000 workers) have been working shorter hours or have the right to do so.
The report referenced other studies showing an increase in productivity when working time was reduced.
An increase in productivity was not the only positive finding. Another study (referenced at p. 17 of the Iceland report) found a reduction in time spent working correlated positively with improvement in “fatigue, sleep and heart/respiratory complaints.”
This finding was confirmed in the Icelandic study, which also found a reduction in stress, an increase in energy and enthusiasm for other activities and increased happiness at work.
The downside to being busy
There’s considerable evidence that “busyness” can have a serious adverse effect on your emotional health, leading to a loss of self-esteem, increased levels of stress and even depression and substance use disorders.
It can also impact your physical health. By prioritizing work over diet and exercise, you risk a litany of health-related issues, ranging from headaches to cardiovascular disease.
Relationships may also suffer when one person is too busy to spend time with friends and family, leading to divorce, increased stress and other indications of dysfunction.
A surprising hack
Here’s a conversation you will rarely experience. You ask a friend or colleague how they are doing. They respond “fine.” You then ask what they are doing. They respond “nothing.”
I’ve decided to allocate time to precisely that: Nothing. I usually pick a day on the weekend. I don’t check social media. I don’t look at my computer or smartphone. I make no plans.
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I just do nothing.
“Nothing” can include a long walk with my wife or a meal out. Sometimes I find myself just resting, relaxing and (often) thinking. Whatever we decide to do is completely unplanned and spontaneous.
I was surprised to find that the quieter my mind was, the more reflective and creative I became.
My results confirmed the findings in other research:
An article in Inc. is entitled: The Remarkable Power of Doing Absolutely Nothing.
A study from Ernst &Young found employee performance improved by 8% for every 10 hours of vacation time.
In an article by Moreno Zugaro, the author noted: “Every time I sit and do nothing, my productivity skyrockets afterward.”
To be happier, healthier (both mentally and physically), more productive, and enhance your relationships, work less and allocate time to doing absolutely nothing.
Dan trains executives and employees in the lessons based on the research on his latest book, Ask: How to Relate to Anyone. His online course, Ask: Increase Your Sales. Deepen Your Relationships, is currently available.