Why You Feel Busier Than Ever

Six non-obvious reasons you feel like you never can stop

I’m guessing you probably feel busier than ever.

Almost every leader I talk to does.

Dealing with an overwhelming, neverending list of responsibilities was a problem long before the global disruption of 2020–21. The disruption made it even more complicated and intense.

The pandemic introduced a strange paradox into our lives. As Adam Grant points out in this widely-circulated article, the pandemic gave us more time as the world shut down, but left us feeling overwhelmed, dealing with grief and this feeling he identifies as “languishing.”

Often I find if I can identify why I’m feeling a certain way, it can help alleviate the problem.

After all, it’s hard to solve a problem you don’t understand.

Naming a problem is the first step toward fixing it.

So, here’s the question: Why do you feel so busy?

Here are some non-obvious reasons.

1. The Crisis Destroyed Your Methods.

The first thing to die in a crisis is your methods. The mission continues, but the methods got destroyed.

• You couldn’t open for in-person gatherings.
• Suddenly you’re leading a remote team.
• You’re not just a parent, you’re now a teacher.
• Live events suddenly became a thing of the past.

And even as things reopen, it’s not the same. Live events are still wobbly. Some people are raring to go, others are more reticent.

Pre-pandemic, most of us had rhythms and methods that, while perhaps not ideal, gave us a sense of security and predictability.

Even if they weren’t perfect, you knew what to do.

The pandemic blew those methods up overnight.

The pain of the moment we’re in is that it’s not what it was and isn’t yet what it will be.

The in-between creates chaos that’s beyond your control.

2. Your Mind Doesn’t Really Turn Off Anymore.

Adding to the chaos is that the future is still unknown and uncertain.

Of course, it’s always been that way (does anyone really know the future?). But in a more stable period, there was a predictability to life and leadership that’s just absent now.

The unknownness of tomorrow forces leaders into a state of constant mental chaos, asking questions for which there are no clear answers and having to change plans regularly.

The mental load you carry as a result means it’s hard to turn off your brain or get away from the crisis.

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Even if you’re not working as many hours as you were a year ago, your mind is always working. And when you’re mind is always working, you’re working.

3. Your Home and Pocket Are Also Your Office.

The working from home shift disrupted the boundaries between work and life in a profound way.

But long before the pandemic, your home and pocket were increasingly becoming your office anyway.

You used to go to the office, but thanks to technology, the office goes to you.

Between your laptop, tablet and phone, work follows you everywhere.

If you’re a knowledge worker, you know that your work is never really done anyway. When have you done enough customer service, team development, product improvement, pastoral care? Correct … never. These are all infinite games.

So your work is never really done.

Add to that the fact that you can now do your work anywhere and you have a toxic cocktail indeed.

The ability to work from anywhere at any time leaves a lot of people feeling like they’re never really on and never really off. You’re taking breaks mid-day to make lunch for the kids or sweep the floor, and answering email at 10 p.m.

No wonder you feel like you’re never done, because you aren’t.

4. Inbound Messages Are at an All-Time High.

I’m old enough to remember when you had one inbox.

At first, it was snail mail, and maybe you got a few pieces of mail a day. Or not.

In the ’90s, email arrived and added a new inbox. In 1996, I think I got about 4–10 emails a day. Rather manageable.

Last year I counted up my inboxes. I have 11. Between social media inboxes, text messages, and a few email accounts, I have over 11 different channels people can use to message me.

Which means pretty much every time I look at my phone, someone is messaging me.

The thing about technology is that messages are always sent at the convenience of the sender, not at the convenience of the recipient, which deepens the sense of overwhelm you have because there’s rarely a time when someone isn’t trying to get your attention or ask you about something.

For me, that’s meant choosing a few inboxes in which I’ll be active while ignoring others (I realize that’s not for everyone).

It’s also meant deciding that I won’t always respond when the message comes in but instead when I’m ready and focused to respond.

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Obviously, for a few people, I do respond right away.

Here’s my rule: The depth of relationship should determine the depth and speed of your response.

What does that mean? It means my family, team and perhaps very closest friends get a near-immediate response. Others get a response later when I’m out of my most productive zone or finished down time.

The depth of relationship should determine the depth and speed of your response.

5. Too Much Task-Switching.

Cal Newport argues, persuasively in my view, that our minds were not designed to switch constantly between tasks.

Constantly checking email, toggling between Slack and the project you’re working on, and pausing to answer texts and take phone calls distracts you to the point where you can’t really focus enough to accomplish deep work.

Or as Cal Newport put it, “Slack built the right tool for the wrong way to work” (he explains why here).

I know on days where I’m toggling many things, I can often put in eight or ten hours and feel like I’ve accomplished nothing at all.

The antidote to constant task-switching is to create deep periods of uninterrupted focus in your work.

Your brain needs to focus to produce quality work and, ultimately, a good quantity of work over time.

For me, that’s meant almost all notifications have been off on all my devices for years, and hours of time-blocked space most days with no or very few interruptions.

6. You’ve Forgotten That Busyness Is a Choice.

This is a hard one for me, but the truth is that busyness is a choice.

You’re as busy as you want to be. No more, no less.

Most days this is hard to remember. The vortex of busyness draws you in deeply and regularly.

A few days ago I was on my front porch early in the morning while the sun rose and I listened to the birds. They weren’t rushed at all. Nor were the trees, or the grass. Or the sky.

The chaos I feel is, for the most part, internally generated.

I’m as busy as I want to be.

So are you.

Read more from Carey Nieuwhof »

This article originally appeared on CareyNieuwhof.com and is reposted here by permission.