There’s a currency of busyness in our society. If you ask most people how they’re doing, at least half the time you’ll get a response saying they’re busy, or some variation on that theme. Sadly, in America being “busy” demonstrates value. It’s a status symbol of sorts. We’ve nurtured this myth, that busyness equals value equals worth.
Over the past two years, we’ve been riding a constant hamster wheel. A relentless cycle of change, juggling, and anxiety. Between COVID, working from home, the divisive political environment, and now the war in Ukraine, it’s impossible to keep up. It’s hard not to feel like we have time to do anything but react to everything around us. While we’ve struggled to maintain our sanity and morale virtually, the stress of all this busyness is leading to major public health concerns. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, anxiety and burnout from our busyness is at an all-time high with 71% of Americans reporting stress during their workday.
But here’s the thing. When we think of ourselves as busy, we make ourselves victims. In many ways, it means, “I have too many things to do and everything is outside of my control. I’m overwhelmed.”
Let Go of the Idea That Busyness Equals Importance
A recent series of studies from Harvard Business Review confirmed that as a society, we place a higher status on those who we perceive as being busy. Turns out, as Americans we perceive ourselves to live in a mobile society, which leads to our need to work as much as possible in order to achieve a higher social status. On the other hand, other cultures who view themselves as less socially mobile, tend to relax more and enjoy their free time more.
Like many working parents, I juggle being a mother to a toddler and stepmom to a teenager with my responsibilities as the president of a company along with everything else I do professionally. I reached a point personally where I just felt like a victim. I was always so busy; my calendar was full at the end of each day and I could never finish my to-do list. I never made enough progress, and I was always dropping the ball. I just didn’t know how to prioritize or to make decisions. I was constantly underwater. Sound familiar?
Shifting Our Perception
As someone who really focuses on messaging and language, and how to frame things, I know that messaging and language really do change how you think about things. I started thinking about my life and how to manage all of this differently. I realized that if we can shift our mindset to viewing our schedule as “full” instead of “busy”, it puts us back in control and reframes our entire day. You see, when you’re “busy,” you’re always running. It’s nonstop. But full is rich, it’s happiness, it’s contentment. When I started thinking about things this way, I could see how full my life was.
Here are three ways my mindset changed:
I Became Grateful For All The Different Roles I Play
I realized how lucky I really am instead of thinking of all my responsibilities in my roles. I get to be a mom to a beautiful girl who’s about to be three, I get to be home more for my stepson who’s going to be going away to college next year, I’ve been fortunate to spend more time with my husband recently than I have in years because I was always traveling for work before the pandemic. I am incredibly fortunate to have a career that I love, and clients who are meaningful in work that is transformative.
I Learned How to Prioritize
I started to look at my calendar and evaluate everything on my to-do list. For each item, I thought about how it would add to my day being full or detract from it. I realized I don’t need to do certain things. And I was able to see it all differently. Some items were just busy work, not full work. I better understood what actually needed to be on my calendar versus what didn’t.
I Took Back Control of My Life
When you live a full life versus a busy life, you’re in control of it. You’re content with it. And that shift is really valuable. And so as we all continue to go through these tough times trying to juggle work, family, life, politics, a war across the ocean and everything else we have to balance, a simple mind shift set shift can really change the way we view our day, the way we view our work, and the way we view our lives.
So, the next time you answer the question, “how are you doing?” make a mental shift and respond. “My day is not just busy, it is incredibly full.” Think about all of the things you get to do, not the things that you HAVE to do. This small shift in how you think will make a huge shift in how you see the world around you.
Lee Carter, president at maslansky + partners, oversees a diverse range of communication and language strategy work for Fortune 100 and 500 companies, trade associations, and nonprofits. Her primary focus is driving behavior change through the effective use of language. She is a word geek, messaging guru, mom, and author.