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Too busy and stressed to have fun at work? 7 ways to break the busyness habit and flourish?

on Monday, 10 October 2016. Posted in Mental Wellbeing

dog treadmill sized

Did you know that busyness is a recent phenomenon? Studies have shown that the more affluent a society gets, the ‘busier’ people feel. In the Western world, busyness has become a habit. However, busyness is one habit that could be well worth kicking!

Constantly busy lives can make us stressed and sick, leaving us wondering what life is all about. It may also mean we become less productive. Busyness related stress have become entrenched in modern society with the vast number of Americans "reporting high levels of stress in their day-to-day lives, and almost 22% describing their stress levels as extreme" (Henderson & Russell, 2016). In this article we discuss the impact of busyness on our health and happiness and suggest 7 ways to break the busyness habit and flourish in our personal and business lives.

Why are many of us so happy being busy?

Some people argue that busyness results from all the options that we have in developed countries. Many of us have an incredible range of choices including how to fill our days, what job or career to pursue, what foods to buy, what car to drive, what sort of friends to have and so on. We can end up spending so much time and energy negotiating these choices that we get caught up in ‘doing, doing, doing’.

Are you on the busyness treadmill?

Busyness has become so engrained in both our leisure and work lives, that it is hard to imagine a life that is not busy. Because of the choices open to us, we feel we have less time than we ever had to do all the things we want to do. One U.S. study showed that American’s today have somewhat less work time and more free time than they had in the 1960’s. This counters popular arguments that there is a ‘time famine’ in the West. Despite the fact they have more free time than ever, American’s still believe that life is becoming more rushed and less fun (Sheuerman 2005).

Work also seems to get busier and more stressful. Technology is partly responsible for this, making it possible to cram more into an hour than ever before. Email is a great example, having made it possible for us to constantly multi-task. In the past, enquiries came to us via a phone call or snail mail. The expectation for returning such enquiries was a few days to a week. However emails have made it possible for us to answer a query almost immediately and people have come to expect this. Emails constantly pop into our in-box while we are working away at other tasks. This makes it very difficult to concentrate for an extended period on one thing. Checking one email when it comes in for instance during another task has been shown to distract us for 5 minutes from the original task. In addition to email, laptops, smart phones and i-pads now enable us to do work anywhere, any time. This makes for so many more potential opportunities for us to be ‘busy’ doing work. As a result, many people see too much work place stress as merely a part of modern life.

What busyness does to our health and happiness

Busyness also has an impact on our physical and emotional health. In his recent book Thrilled to Death, Dr H. Heart explains that the myriad of choices and the constant excitement and activity that we experience, particularly as young people, can cause a variety of stress disorders. Heart argues that stimulation is not necessarily a good thing. The over-stimulation our children are experiencing can mean they lose the capacity to experience pleasure in the small things in life.

Why busyness can be unproductive

Heart explains that down-time can be more productive than busyness in the end. For children in particular, boredom can provide the space and time for real creativity. When children have few toys, they can create endless fun and interest for themselves. They might also day-dream, imagine possibilities and think a lot about what they might do in the future. It is also during such ‘down-time’ that adults often have the best insights or make the most important discoveries. It is a well known fact that the famed mathematician Archimedes made one of his greatest discoveries in the bathtub – EUREKA!

Busyness has become a habit

In the modern world, some of us carry busyness as a badge of honor. We assume that if we are busy we must have a lot of important things to do. As a result, we must be important. However, some experts argue that busyness is a state of mind rather than merely an activity. They argue that we are so busy being busy, that we may have lost sight of what is important to us. It is interesting that in Russia, the word for busyness is the same as for the word ‘vanity’. Far from signaling productivity, it implies and empty, unproductive spending of time, ‘something like walking on a treadmill’ (Greenfeld 2005). Business is therefore not the same thing, as productivity. In fact, it may leave us wondering what life is really all about.

Stress help: How do we break the busyness habit?

Below are seven suggestions for breaking the busyness habit and having more fun in life and work:

  1. Examine what is truly important in your life and work. Examine your goals. Ask yourself whether your current schedule is in line with your true priorities?
  2. Prioritise daily tasks based on what is most important. If necessary learn more about time management. There are many quality books and courses on this topic.
  3. Organise your day with a balance of activities, alternating high energy activities, with those that demand less energy, or down time
  4. Learn to relax and appreciate the benefits for your health and creativity
  5. Take the time to take pleasure in daily tasks and activities and appreciate the small things
  6. Savour life. Take a walk at lunch time and appreciate the sun and wind on your skin, the pleasant smells, the act of moving
  7. Do nothing often. Just stopping can be wonderfully restorative and help put life in perspective

Conclusion – Time to ‘be me’, have fun and reduce stress

It is helpful to remember that ‘busyness’ is not the be all and end all. In fact, it can sometimes mean we forget what is truly important to us. The fact is that everyone needs time to slow down and just ‘be’. Busyness can also generate high stress levels, which can impact on our physical and emotional health. It is also during down times, when we are not stressed, that we can have our most creative and innovative ideas. So, why not consider kicking the busyness habit today!? As a result, you will be less stressed, more creative and use your leisure and work time more productively.


Dr Kathryn Owler


Greenfield, L. 2005. ‘When the Sky is the Limit: Busyness in Contemporary American Society’, Social Research, Vol 72(2): 315-338.

Heart, A. 2007. Thrilled to Death: How the Endless Pursuit of Pleasure is Leaving Us Numb. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Press.

Henderson, A. & Matthews, R. 2016. 'Overwhelmed: How to work, love, and play when no one has the time', Learning and Education, April. doi: 10.5465/amle.2016.0097

Scheuerman, W. 2005. ‘Busyness and Citizenship’, Social Research, Vol 72(2): 447-470.

Tips, training and resources

Staff training: Training for staff can motivating and help staff know that you care. Joyworkz offer a range of workplace wellness seminars on topics including stress management, that can assist staff to be healthy and happy at work.

A wellness programme: Consider developing a wellness programme targeted to staff needs. If you need help getting started, consider Joyworkz SimplyWell™ package, which takes the stress out of designing a workplace wellness programme.

Visual prompts: Visual prompts in the workplace can be useful. For instance, consider the range of free Alsco posters that encourage staff to manage their stress well.

Original Article 2012. Article Updated 2016© Joyworkz Ltd, page Updated 2018. All Rights Reserved.

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