UPS used to brag about moving at the speed of business. They even invested in a NASCAR sponsorship. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to simply go faster in order to keep up.
That might explain why UPS ended its NASCAR sponsorships in 2014. These days their marketing efforts promote the tagline, “United problem solvers.” They’ve shifted from speed to solving problems.
That’s a telling change. Trying to keep up with the frantic pace of today’s world keeps us in a constant state of busyness. It’s exhausting. We turn to time management or productivity tips in a futile attempt to cram it all in. We need to do something different.
We need to stop embracing busy and start being effective.
This is the first in a six-part series based on the book, Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much by Tony Crabbe.
We’re Actually Not Busy
Here’s the funny thing—while life feels busier than ever, it’s actually not.
The number of hours the average American works per year has declined more than 10% since the 1950s.
Roles have certainly shifted—women are working more and doing less at home, while men are working less and doing more at home.
But we feel busier:
“Ever since 1972, the National Science Foundation has found a steady rise in the percentage of people, both men and women, who ‘always’ feel rushed.” (Crabbe, xix)
Why Do We Feel So Busy?
So what’s going on? We’re working less but feeling more overwhelmed?
Part of the problem is that our time has become more valuable. If you make $100 per hour, sitting down to watch TV suddenly feels very expensive.
Another issue is that our work has changed from physical labor to knowledge labor. Physical labor is often limited by practical restraints: Farmers work during the daylight and harvest at specific times. Factory workers can only process a finite amount of material. Even the human body can only do so much. But the limits of knowledge labor are constantly increasing. Internet speeds get faster, smartphones can do more. While our brains may get weary, sitting at a desk hardly seems like taxing physical labor.
And those devices follow us home.
Which leads us to what may be the biggest reason we feel so overwhelmed, what Tony Crabbe describes as our “infinite world”:
“There are always more incoming emails, more meetings, more things to read, more ideas to follow up—and digital mobile technology means you can easily crank through a few more to-do list items at home, or on holiday, or at the gym. The result, inevitably, is feeling overwhelmed: we’re each finite human beings, with finite energy and abilities, attempting to get through an infinite amount. We feel a social pressure to ‘do it all,’ at work and at home, but that’s not just really difficult; it’s a mathematical impossibility.” (BBC)
Being So Busy is Bad
All that overwhelming busyness is not good for us.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, we don’t work better under pressure. Being reminded of time pressure results in worse performance.
Being busy can also make us less compassionate. We’re simply too busy to help.
The temptation to check our email or the Internet is actually harder to resist than the temptation for food or sex (133).
In the past we’ve explored the how the hustle hinders. The reality is that trying to go faster to keep pace with the world not only doesn’t work, but it actually causes harm.
Moving From Efficient to Effective
The real key to success can’t be found in time management or productivity. Those tips might help a little bit, and there’s certainly some wisdom to be found in structuring your working life to be more efficient.
But efficiency alone will not make you effective.
“Time management will not help you get in control; because there is too much to do, it will only make you busier. … Time management will not make you more effective, it reduces our ability to prioritize; it makes us more efficient, but less effective.” (20)
To truly overcome this epidemic of busy, you need to change your mindset:
- Stop switching between tasks.
- Work differently: Develop a greater focus.
- Make the right choices about the work you do.
- And do it with a smile.
We’ll explore all these topics in the coming weeks as we learn how to overcome busy.