Why the New Normal of Too Busy Is Hurting You

Being too busy seems to have become the new normal. We have either over-scheduled ourselves or our children, yet, we wear it as a badge of honor. We must be important because we have no free time. “I am so busy, I can’t possibly add anything else to my schedule”, we say. And it is not said with remorse, sadness, or disappointment. It is merely a comment that we do not have time to add yet another thing.

Unfortunately, the things we are missing by being too busy are some of the more important ones.

When was the last time you took a walk? Not to get in your fitbit steps or instead of driving to run an errand, but just went for a walk because you just wanted to. I did on Sunday, with a lovely woman, and it gave us a chance to talk without any kind of distractions or electronics to interrupt us.

We talked about raising our children, things we were doing with our husbands, the neighbors’ houses and lawns, and the pros and cons of home ownership. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Yet, it was just chit chat on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning with nothing to rush off to.

My husband and I make a concerted effort not to over-schedule ourselves and our daughter so that we can enjoy the time we have together and have the opportunity to do what we feel like on any given day. We still feel like we’re missing out on things, though. The downside to not over-scheduling our time can sometimes be that we have to decline seeing a friend we’d like to get together with or we don’t see the latest move the first night out.

For our family’s sanity, we’ve made the decision that not going 100 miles an hour is right for us, because the alternative is to feel obligated to plan out every minute of our weekends. And then we’d STILL likely miss out on something AND be tired.

Sadly, I have a lot less control over my work schedule. I think that we are behind the times in sticking with a forty-hour work week. There is a lack of truly flexible working environments that would allow people to better manage their lives and how they spend their time. Jessica Stillman, of @Inc Magazine, wrote back in 2012 that working more than 40 hours a week is useless. I refer back to it often when I talk with people about how many hours they put in and the fact that staying late all the time does not make them a better employee or more productive.

Now there are always going to be crunch times when you have to put in extra hours, but the constant overworking that so many people do isn’t helping. I’m going to be bold and say that to truly rebel and fix this new normal we’ve found ourselves in, I even think that 40 hours is a too much time spent at work.

Why? I think that 40 hours allows for too much time to waste in a given day.  We waste time in meetings. We waste time with email. We waste time on non-work related things (I see you with your Facebook or Instagram open). Don’t get me wrong, I like getting to know my coworkers, but wasting 5 minutes talking about the weather isn’t helping me get my project done.

I think, as managers, we need to reassess the perceived value of how long we are in the office. Just physically being in the office doesn’t mean people are productive. Having worked from home for three years, I know I was more productive because there weren’t as many distractions in my home office. I missed the interaction with my colleagues. However, now that I am back in an office, I lose the ability to squeeze in a chore or two which gave me more free time during the week. It wasn’t that I slacked off during the day, it’s just that you can’t do laundry at the office unless the office is at home.

Going further with my boldness: Why aren’t more employees allowed to telecommute or work remotely?
True, it’s not an option for everyone but it hasn’t caught on like I assumed it would either. I continue to be surprised at the number of employers that don’t offer it as an option, because they don’t see it as a fit for their office or culture.

Speaking from experience and looking at research like this article on how telecommuting can boost productivity and job performance, I assert that if I could work from home one day a week on a consistent basis, it would make a huge difference in my life. And I don’t even have a bad commute, which is saying something for DC traffic!

I think of some of my co-workers; people who waste two to three hours a day just getting to and from work, which is ridiculous. Entrepreneur covered a recent European court decision that would make the commute part of the work day. If we had this in Washington, DC, there are people whose work day would be drastically cut just because the traffic here is so horrendous. Now, I don’t think we need to go that far and wouldn’t want to encourage people to live further away just to cut down on time in the office. Yet, I do think there’s merit to looking at more balance in our days, so that we aren’t always out of the house from dawn until dusk, sacrificing any semblance of a life during the week.

Finally, get rid of the phrase work/life balance and just look for balance 

I don’t care for the term work/life balance, because I don’t think it exists. There isn’t a way to strike a balance between two often opposing forces which some of time cannot be controlled. There is merely the choice between priorities. We work so we have money to spend, not because we all want to work. Maybe some people do but if I won the lottery tomorrow, I wouldn’t be in an office anymore.

Some days work wins and, other days, my life does. I don’t think I am any different than anyone else here which is why I guard my time, work and personal. There isn’t enough time for all the things that I want to do and have to do so I am constantly choosing. Say yes to one thing means saying no to another, and sometimes those choices are difficult.
Perhaps this will become my new mission in my professional career; ways to be more productive while working fewer hours. I don’t want to miss out on my life because I am at work. I also don’t want to do a bad job at work. The choice I’m left with is figuring out how to better control my own schedule and end the day when I was done with what was really important. I know I would have more free time, and that I would be a more content person.

Someday we will hopefully slow down and see what we’ve been missing. Until then, I’ll be protecting my time to be more present in my own life. And reset to my new NEW normal of balance.


Meredith Ellison is a dynamic association management executive with exceptional membership satisfaction expertise. She combines astute financial, strategic, and staff development skills with 15+ year track record of consistent revenue growth and expense reduction.


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