In a world where the boundaries between work and home are more blurred than ever before, being extremely busy is a state many people are experiencing more often. Remote working means that employees are much more likely to work outside their contracted hours: answering emails and making phone calls when health experts say they should be doing leisure activities and spending time with the family.
Rather than boost productivity, being a victim of ‘busy culture’ can actively harm it. A recent Harvard Business Review report found that excessive levels of busyness cause stress and distract us from our true objectives, even leading to burnout in some cases.
So, if you’re on the wrong side of ‘busy culture’, what steps can you take to rectify it? After all, being busy doesn’t mean you’ll be effective.
Here are what experts recommend to make you less busy and more successful.
Use all of your holidays
This might sound ridiculous but a huge amount of us don’t actually take all of our holiday entitlement. In fact, this may be an understatement – in 2018, jobs website Glassdoor found that the average UK employee only takes 62% of their annual allowance, with four in ten adults taking less than half.
It doesn’t stop there. Of those who did use their allowance, around a quarter of them continued to check their emails, afraid of falling behind.
However, with a little planning, it’s possible to avoid a lot of this. The report gives four guidelines that employees should follow in order to leave holiday busy culture behind and actually enjoy themselves:
- Plan your holiday long in advance and tell anyone who’ll listen that you’ll be unreachable during it.
- Back this up with a good ‘Out of Office’ auto response and a colleague to contact for urgent queries.
- Train this colleague a little before you leave, just so you have peace of mind — a few minutes of tips could be worth a lot of stress in the long run.
- Turn off the phone once your holiday starts!
Stop checking that phone
It’s almost automatic — the phone pings and we pick it up. Most of the time, however, it’s something unimportant, like a social media notification. Even though we might just spend a few seconds glancing at the device, on other occasions it can send us into a spiral of phone-related activity. A recent report estimated that we spend around three hours and 15 minutes per day on our phones, and a lot of it is for non-essential stuff.
Heightened phone use can also lead to anxiety. Staring at a screen for a long time affects a person’s posture, and the all-consuming nature of the devices can even affect how we breathe. Bad body positioning and irregular oxygen supplies to the brain contributes to stress. Unfortunately, the more we scroll, the worse we feel.
The key to controlling this is turning off notifications. Most of the things we do on phones aren’t great for our health, like constantly checking social media or playing addictive games, and notifications tend to draw us to them. If we slim these down to just important alerts, then it stands to reason that we won’t pick our phones up so often and do unproductive things.
If you struggle to do this alone, and many of us do, then there are plenty of tools around to help you out. It might sound ironic, but there are apps out there that, erm, stop you using apps, but even if they only help you cut your usage down by 25%, you’ll soon notice how much more time you have and how less ‘busy’ you feel.
Check emails twice a day
Part our addiction to electronic devices is their ability to bring us news, or stimulation in other words. It’s why many of us continually refresh social media feeds to see the latest posts – they’re designed to give us a short burst of pleasure, much like the feeling we get from a win on an online casino game, for example.
Emails are another target of our constant checking. ‘Busy culture’ dictates that we check several times a day, just on the off chance that a new message arrives. The problem with this is that it means we respond to unimportant emails as soon as we get them, distracting us from more meaningful objectives.
A common maxim that can help us deal with this is to only check your mail twice a day. Many experts swear by this rule, saying it helps them focus on more productive tasks, and, as long as you do check them every day, you’ll still stay on top of the most important tasks. One personal development guru even says you shouldn’t check them in the morning, citing seven reasons why you should avoid them until after lunch.
One thing’s for sure: the less time we spend clicking through unimportant emails, the less busy we’ll be, and the more time we’ll have for the crucial stuff.
Many people roll their eyes at meditation: isn’t that what hippies do? And doesn’t it take up a lot of time doing nothing?
Well, in fact, it’s a growing pastime. With the demands of a busy work life affecting people all around the world, millions look to meditation as an outlet, as a way to find relaxation.
Mindfulness is a popular form of meditation which only needs a few minutes and a comfortable chair or bed. Then, you simply take deep breaths and note your surroundings: the sounds, sight and smells of things around you.
Experts say it helps to reduce stress in a short time, so if you find yourself rushed off your feet, take a few minutes out and get mindful.
Learn to say ‘no’
‘Busy culture’ is often a direct result of ‘yes culture’. We don’t want to let people down or appear difficult, so we agree to help with side projects, or take on unproductive work.
Turning something down doesn’t need to be offensive. In fact, saying no effectively can even bolster people’s respect for you – you’ll come across as focussed and efficient.
Practise doing it every now and then and see how you get on. You’ll certainly create more time for yourself and, like with the previous tips, you’ll find that ‘busy culture’ doesn’t need to dominate your life, after all.
Please play responsibly. For more information and advice visit www.begambleaware.org