When faced with life’s frantic pace and the constant urge to be busy, sometimes we need to slow down and smile. Take time for yourself, celebrate your wins—even embrace wasting time.
We’ve been exploring busyness with a six-part series inspired by Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much by Tony Crabbe. We’ve talked about how to stop switching projects, focus on your work and make better choices. Now let’s talk about some of the strategies that fly in the face of being busy and can actually make you more productive.
What’s the opposite of running around in a frantic frenzy of busy? Sitting back with a smile. Sometimes the best remedy for busy is to smile.
Remember your old baseball cards? In one incredible study, researchers found that players who didn’t smile in their baseball card photos lived an average of 72.9 years. Players with a little smile lived 75 years. And players with a big smile? They lived 79.9 years!
OK, it takes more than a smile (all though clearly that smile seems to do some good). But being positive, celebrating wins, taking a break and even wasting time (gasp!) can all be powerful ways to overcome the plague of busy.
Slipping into that state of busyness often happens when we’re too serious. Sometimes we need to have more fun. If we can flip our mood and be more playful, we’ll be less susceptible to the dangers of being busy.
In short, having more fun makes us more creative, more effective, more productive.
There are plenty of ways to be more playful:
- Play some fun music.
- Get up and dance.
- Doodle on your whiteboard.
- Play with a toy—toss a ball, spin a yo-yo, twirl a top.
One of the dangers of busyness is that we think the goal is perfection. In trying to get every task checked off, we miss out on the benefits of being a little sloppy.
Mistakes are OK.
We build confidence by understanding that we’re not meant to be perfect. We all have faults, and yet we’re still valuable people.
This doesn’t mean letting your standards slip, but maybe you recognize where you’ve been going above and beyond what’s required. Yes, the extra organization in your code is helpful and it makes for a better final product, but maybe the extra hour you put in to do it wasn’t worth it.
Sometimes we need to let things be good enough.
“Perfection is an impossible facade to maintain that masks vulnerability; the cost of perfection is too high.” (Crabbe, 20)
Focus on the Positive
Want something that will make you happier than Prozac, without having to pop a pill? Researchers have found that one simple activity every day can actually combat clinical depression. Just write down three things about your day that went well or made you happy.
We tend to focus on the negative. We let one bad moment drown out an otherwise great day. This exercise can force us to refocus and properly balance our perspective.
Being busy can often rob us of our happiness. We feel that overwhelming sense of dread. Being positive can be a way to counterbalance that feeling.
That emphasis on the positive can be a reason to celebrate. But how we celebrate can make a big difference.
Often our celebrations are passive responses. We say something helpful and encouraging, like “Good job” or “I’m proud of you.” Those are good things to say, but they’re unsubstantial.
Find a way to celebrate that involves the other person. Instead of a pat on the back, give a high five. Instead of saying how you feel about it, ask how they feel. Ask them to relive the experience. These are ways to more deeply engage with someone.
All of this positivity trumps the debilitating power of busyness.
Take a Break
Busyness doesn’t allow for breaks. Which is a real problem since our brains need breaks. We’re not wired to always be moving, thinking, working. Our brain works best when it focuses, then has a period of recovery.
You need to create space throughout your day for necessary breaks. You also need breaks throughout your month and year. Vacations don’t happen unless you plan them, so put them on your calendar now.
It should be part of your working cycle to work hard and then take a break to recover. And generally, your recovery is more effective if you’re not doing the same type of work. If your job is to sit in front of a computer, break time should not be more time in front of the computer scanning social media.
Get away from the machine. Stand up. Go outside. Move your body.
Embrace Wasted Time
The constant drive of busyness means that productivity has spilled into nearly every area of our lives. We try to reclaim wasted time standing in line by browsing our phones. That seems like progress—what else are you going to do while you stand in line?
But those moments of dead time throughout the day are actually extremely valuable. You may just be staring off into space or counting ceiling tiles, but your brain is still working. It’s mulling over problems from throughout the day, coming up with solutions in your subconscious. It’s processing. But when you try to reclaim that dead time, when you overtax your brain, then you limit how much it can accomplish subconsciously.
Give yourself some idle time. Let your mind wander. Don’t give in to the constant drive of busyness.
Overcome Busy With a Smile
That frantic feeling that we must check our phones, must tackle our to-do list, must be productive—it can drive you a little nuts. Shake it off with a smile. Be more playful. Be more positive. Truly celebrate your wins. Take a rest when you need it. Let your brain be idle.