How to Overcome Busy-ness 

 September 8, 2021

By  Donna Woodrow

After watching the Olympics and the Paralympics, I'm reminded that there's still another Olympics ongoing amongst the community. The busy Olympics. A competition where no medals are awarded and the competitors leave less accomplished than when they entered.


How often have you asked a colleague how they're doing and received the response, "Run off my feet, I'm so busy right now." Or heard someone say, "I don't have time for that, I'm too busy."

What does that actually mean? What are the precise conditions that make one busy? Some of us have a sense that we thrive when we're busy but for most of us being busy comes with at least a moderate amount of stress. So how do we keep falling into the trap of being so busy and when will we find the time to be at rest and enjoy our lives?

What does it mean to be busy?

You might be thinking, well it's not my fault that I'm busy, my boss has overloaded me with work, I have too much to do. Or I'm a parent and being a parent is just a life of busy.

Here's the thing, being busy is not actually something that happens to us. Granted, you might have a heavy workload, or a long list of tasks you'd like to complete, but busyness in itself is a state of mind. Even the busiest of us, are only capable of completing the same amount of work as everyone else, after all 24 Hours is 24 hours no matter which way you slice it. At most, we might manage to multi-task, which usually consists of one active task and one or two passive tasks. Such as working on a spreadsheet whilst listening to music and having a conversation. At most, you can do maybe 2 or 3 things at once, and the truth is, you're likely to be doing all three of those things with reduced competency. Each arm on a Hindu god will still be competing with the brain for attention and the body for energy to complete its assigned task. 

So when we speak of being 'busy' what we're really saying is that our brains are busy. Having a busy brain produces a range of thoughts and feelings inside us such as anxiety, worry, overwhelm and distractions about what else you ought to be doing - you might even be thinking about how busy you are! And more often than not, a busy mind leads to reduced productivity. 

Being busy and being productive are two different things.

The worker honey bee spends it's life as a productive member of it's hive, but doesn't bother itself with anxiety about how busy it is, and how much honey it needs to produce this quarter. It knows it's focus is to collect the pollen and bring it back to the hive and so it diligently works towards that goal, one task at a time. It doesn't bother itself with fantasies about multitasking it's pollen collection and honeycomb building, because it knows each task is deserving of its time. The label 'busy bee' is a product of human thinking, in the mind of a busy bee, they're just being (a bee).  

Sometimes you have to slow down, to speed up.

In those times that I've experienced a busy state of mind, slowing down sounded like an impossibility. Slowing down was only afforded to those with 'simpler' lives, those with nothing much to do. Yet, I was tired on living on the busy hamster wheel, and so I started to challenge this notion and play with the idea I'd heard of from some wise sage. That you had to slow down, to speed up. I would practice getting into a calm headspace, letting go of expectations of how much work I would produce today. I would look at my list and choose one item to focus on, at the exclusion of all others.

Something magical happened, I got sh*t done, and I got it done faster than ever before - I was discovering an untapped potential of productivity. Not to mention the increased joy and satisfaction I experienced when really being present to all that I was creating. Sure, every now and then as I was focusing on a single task, the little devil would appear on my shoulders... "What about those other 5 tasks, when will you get those done?" it would say in an accusing voice. This would be my cue to practice being present, calm and focused. 

The existence of your lengthy to-do list, or the client meetings and project deadlines are not in themselves what causes anxiety or overwhelm. What causes anxiety or overwhelm is the WAY you think about your to-do list. When we tell ourselves we are busy, (and we believe it) then we are buying into the idea that we have no control over our experience of having so much work on our plate. We begin to relinquish responsibility for what we think and feel, "because I'm so busy and… " then we justify our experience by blaming it on someone or something else.

Unhelpful thinking about WHY you're busy.

We all hold beliefs about all kinds of things. Some of our beliefs support us to live enriching lives, and sometimes our beliefs go unchecked, and they start to wreak havoc on the life we wish we had. Here's some unhelpful beliefs you might hold about why you're busy. These are ways of thinking that my clients have been able transform, in order to free themselves from the busy trap. I've highlighted the belief, along with a potential underlying assumption or philosophy to this belief, and you may have your very own belief and busy thinking keeping you stuck in place.  

  • My boss keeps overloading me with work.  It's someone else's fault I'm feeling this way.
  • Sure I'm busy, but that's why they pay me the big bucks. I dislike feeling this way, but I sacrifice how I feel in exchange for money.
  • Everyone is busy, it's just a way of life.  I've resigned to feeling this way because I can't see a way out.
  • Being busy comes with the territory of being a parent.  It is my role or duty to be busy.

Sometimes people actually like the feeling of being busy, they might even go as far as to say they thrive when they're busy. This might be true, some of us do work on higher octane and can handle a little more action day to day. However there is a subset of these people who might just be deceiving themselves. This is not any fault of character, it's simply a personality behavioural pattern in the person where they have attached feelings of success, worth and personal value with their actions of doing, rather than who they are as a being.

They might like to tell themselves the story that being busy is good for them, and this is often because when they're busy they get a sense of importance or even feelings of success. If you like telling people you're busy, yet you still suffer the consequences of the busy trap, then maybe there's something worth challenging in your thinking. What's keeping you signed up for the busy Olympics?

Unhelpful thinking about BEING busy.

Sometimes we hold beliefs about situations or events that actually do us a dis-service. This is not a suggestion to drop your beliefs about being busy, but an invitation to become curious about your beliefs. Are they serving you? Do they facilitate your productivity? Do they allow you to enjoy your work? What behaviour does your belief create? For example, here are some beliefs that my clients have shared with me, along with the knock on effects of carrying these beliefs with them for a lifetime. 



Busy people are successful people, I want to be successful.

This belief causes me to stay busy, with the hopes that the busier I am, the more success I will attain. All the while I lose my focused intention on my actual goal as it is replaced with a goal of attaining success, no matter the task at hand.

Busy people must be important people, as they are in high demand. I want to be an important person.

This belief causes me to stay busy with the hopes that my busy-ness will lead others to see me as important, all the while I become even more busy and stuck in this trap as I strive to be important.

Being busy awards me status and prestige.

I want to attain status and prestige, so I stay as busy as I can chasing my status and prestige, at the same time wondering how to escape the busy trap.

Now these are just 3 examples. I don't doubt there are many more - and I also suspect that some people have some really healthy beliefs about being 'busy' that could serve them. The clients who had the beliefs above came to discover that these beliefs didn't actually help them get more work done, instead it kept them in a state of mental clutter and busyness. All the while getting less done and worrying more about how they'll get all of their work done.

Is it time to retire from the busy Olympics?

It is in a state of flow and presence that we do our best work. Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up. If you'd like to get more done, learn how to slow down your mind, to get un-busy to find a place of focus then reach out and start a conversation with me about how you can un-busy your mind, and work specifically on the unhelpful beliefs that might be holding you back.

Donna Woodrow

Donna takes a genuine interest in the collective and personal growth of the human race and its individuals. Donna is a seeker who loves to travel and invests considerable time in her own personal growth. Donna is a professional coach and trainer, experienced Enneagram facilitator and the Managing Director and Partner of Modo Coaching & Training.

Donna Woodrow

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