Busyness: The new addiction

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

If I was to ask you, “How’s your week going?” or “How are things going for you?”

What would be your answer?

When I've asked, so many friends and work colleagues responded with….

”I’m so busy!”

Why is it that life seems to be so full and there’s always something more to get done?

It doesn’t matter whether you have kids, full-time work, part-time work, or you’re involved in sporting or interest groups, there are so many forces competing for our attention. It can feel like there’s less and less time in the day.

So what does being "busy" mean to you?

And are you proud of being so busy all the time?

Is busy something you strive for?

So is "busy" good or bad?

To most people I've asked this question, busy means doing the stuff on their to-do list or doing what needs to be done in their business or life.

But when does Good Busy turn into Bad Busy?

The definition of Busy is 'having a great deal to do'.

Good Busy: having a great deal to do that moves you towards a goal. I also believe it includes having a balanced and healthy respect for time.

Bad Busy: having a great deal to do that distracts you from what is really important. Bad busy is when you use being busy as a way of avoiding something else.

Crazy-busy’ is a great armour, it’s a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy, and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we’re feeling and what we really need can’t catch up with us. – Brene Brown

Bad busy is an addiction.

And being addicted to busy is like being addicted to anything else. It’s a fear-based way to avoid slowing down and acknowledging and feeling what’s going on in your life.

You might become addicted to busyness when your relationship with yourself is not so great. You de-prioritise time for recovery, thinking time or time for you. Doing meditation or a nature walk to clear your head.

You avoid the things that will force you to acknowledge that you need to make some changes.

So you keep busy and distract yourself.

Like when your sales results are not going well for the third quarter in a row, you might bury yourself in busyness, unfocused doing stuff, to avoid facing the truth that you’ll have to make some cuts.

There comes a point though, where something has to give. You can’t go on like this any longer without completely burning out and having your head explode!

You are just DOING stuff all the time.

But just doing stuff or ticking things off the to-do list does not make for a successful business or a successful life.

A word that often hides behind Busyness is “Overcommitment”.

Over-commitment is when you allow more and more things to be added to your to-do list. It's what happens when you can’t say no. Overcommitment happens when you choose not to prioritise what is really important.

To achieve any worthwhile goal there must be a purpose, your burning Why this is Important and a focussed drive on a path towards that purpose.

What I mean is that sometimes to achieve a goal you must stop and think rather than taking action.

Yep, I mean DO nothing.


Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing. – Thomas A. Edison

So did a little bit of sick just come into your mouth right now?

Did you start feeling stressed when I suggested you stop taking action and do nothing?

Take a look at these other signs you may be addicted to being busy.

1. You talk about your busyness all the time.

When someone asks you how you are doing, you respond that you are busy. You tell people about your busyness.

You may even wear it as a badge of honour. It makes you feel important to be busy. You feel it’s what you need to show the world. You view busyness as a sign of success.

2. You believe you don’t have time to slow down.

Your life feels so busy and so rushed that you don’t think it’s even possible to slow down. If you can't imagine how you would rest and relax on a day off, you may be an addict. Michael Hyatt writes, “An overbusy life is not an economic necessity; it’s a failure of imagination. Constraints spur creativity. What if we determined that we would not work certain hours and instead got smarter and more creative with the time we have?

If you’re addicted to being busy, you’ll feel overwhelmed by the thought of slowing down. You’ll feel triggered and focus on all the tasks you have to do. Too many to slow down.

3. You think that slowing down means you have to do something in its place.

When you think about slowing down, do you think that you’d have to spend that time doing something? I’m guilty of this! Often I’ll declare a day off only to them write a list of all the stuff I’ll get done on my day off!

Busyness and overcommitment cannot be solved by replacing one form of busyness with another.

Slowing down often means not accomplishing something. Not making progress.

And that’s OK.

4. You go to bed exhausted and wake up exhausted.

Sleep should help you recover and recuperate. If you aren’t getting enough sleep to feel rested, you probably believe that you don’t have time to rest. There is too much to do.

5. You are always late because you try to cram one more thing in.

Are you always late? Do your family and friends comment about it? Is this because you try to do just one more task before your next appointment? Busyness addicts feel like they have to squeeze productivity out of every minute of the day.

Instead of giving yourself time, you squeeze in one more task which makes you for your next appointment.

6. You feel rushed – even when you are not late.

Have you ever had this experience? You leave early for your next appointment and have no need to rush. But you find yourself walking fast or driving like a crazy person? Busyness addicts rush simply because it is a habit, not a necessity.

7. You constantly look at the clock when you are spending time with loved ones.

Time with those you love should have a sense of slowness and presence. Unfortunately, the family of a busyness addict are the ones who take the brunt of the rushing. If you can't be present with the most important people in your life without constantly checking your watch, or thinking about what to do next, you may be a busyness addict.

8. Your only technique for relaxation is crashing in front of the TV or social media.

Firstly there is nothing with Netflix or social media, but if these are the only way you relax, your poor brain will never get a break!.

Try walking in nature, gardening, escaping into a great novel, drawing or doodling, playing music or meditation. Give your brain a holiday.

9. You feel stress even when you are not doing anything stressful.

Busyness can become a habit. And busyness leads to stress. This means that stress can become a habit.

Dr Archibald Hart proposed this in his book Adrenaline and Stress. Dr Hart identified psychosomatic symptoms of stress. There are two easy ways to measure if you are stressed:

  1. If you touch your fingertips to your face, and your fingertips are colder than your face.

  2. If your heart rate is elevated without exercise.

These two ways are not 100% accurate. But they give you a good indication that you may be stressed.

When you are addicted to busyness, you will feel pressured and stressed even when you are not. The next time you notice that your fingertips are cold or your heart rate is beating faster than normal, ask yourself if you are truly experiencing something stressful. Have you made stress a habit?

10. Your most important relationships are primarily transactional.

If you spend most of your conversations with your partner or kids talking about the next event or the calendar for the week, you may be a busyness addict.

There’s nothing wrong with having these conversations, but if you only have time to discuss “who is doing what, when, and who needs to drive,” you are too busy for meaningful discussions.

Beware the barrenness of a busy life. – Socrates

What does being busy mean to you?

I’d love to know.


Emma Taberner is a qualified Leadership and Executive Coach, Speaker, Facilitator, author and self-confessed Human Behaviour nerd. With over 20 years Supply Chain industry experience and 10 years coaching and mentoring frontline leaders, she is passionate about helping small business owners and their teams to understand how their behaviours determine their leadership and effectiveness in business, relationships and in life. Emma works One to One, with groups, both face 2 face and online.

When she’s not building future leaders you can find her flying small planes, being in the outdoors, growing her own food and hanging out with her husband of over 20 years.

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