How to Thrive in a World of Too Much

STOPPING THE CYCLE OF OVERLY BUSY

How did they do it before? It’s a question many of us ask, as we stay glued to our laptops or our phone, always present, always working, always trying to be “productive” at all hours of the day. And yet, we can’t keep up. Which leads to that question: How did they (which, for those of us of a certain age, means “we”) do it before?

In his book Busy, business psychologist Tony Crabbe offers a succinct answer: because we are trying to resolve information-age problems with industrial-age solutions. We try to be more productive, we try to “manage time” — when the problem, according to Crabbe, is not that we have too little time to do what we have to do. The problem of the information age is that we give ourselves too much to do.

Busy is not just a burden. It has become a badge of honor. One brags about how busy one is.

Stopping this cycle of being overbusy and never actually catching up — which, despite our bravado, just makes us exhausted and frustrated — begins with understanding what Crabbe calls “the three faces of busy.”

The Three Faces of Busy

Each of the “three faces of busy,” writes Crabbe “refers to a different way in which we relate to busyness.”

The first face sees “busy as an experience.” This is the busyness, he writes, that keeps us harried and overwhelmed, the busyness that makes us feel that we don’t know how to manage our time.

The second face of busy is, according to Crabbe, “busy as a success strategy.” In this case, we believe that success comes by busy more productively, by always striving to do more and more. Unfortunately, this type of busyness leaves us little time to do the “big stuff,” such as taking the time to think creatively.

Finally, the third face of busyness is “busy as an approach to happiness.” This busyness face, writes Crabbe, refers to the goal of having more and more — more stuff, more popularity, more status. Values, relationships and our health are put on hold during a relentless acquisition frenzy.

Three Strategies to Battle Busyness

In his book, Crabbe offers three distinct strategies to battle each of the faces of busyness. The first strategy, aimed at getting beyond busyness as an experience, is a strategy of mastery. The goal is to become masters of our lives, Crabbe writes. It means to stop trying to get everything done through more efficient organization and start, instead, to make tough choices about what to eliminate. Mastery also involves, Crabbe writes, “shifting our focus from managing time to managing attention.”

The second strategy is to differentiate. This strategy is aimed at getting beyond busyness as a success strategy. As noted above, if we only focus on being more productive, we don’t take time to reflect or be creative — the keys to standing out in our overcrowded world. In this section of the book, Crabbe urges his readers to focus on innovation, not productivity of more of the same. He also argues that too many people see busyness as an effective brand, when all it really does is convey your lack of mastery. A truly effective brand is a simple summary of what makes you unique (for example, one of his clients had “no problem!” as his brand, which is the nickname he had been given in his business for his can-do attitude.)

Crabbe’s third strategy, engagement, is designed to overcome busyness as an approach to happiness (the “having more makes me happy!” attitude). The three steps in this strategy are let your values define your meaning of success; develop deeper relationships with fewer people instead of piling up the number of connections; and replace the addiction to shallow buzz (“I’m flying from meeting to meeting.” “I’ve taken up this new hobby.” “I’m a player!”) with the joy of flow — Mihaly Csikszentmihaltyi’s famous term for losing oneself in a task and not realizing the time flying by.

Busy is very clearly organized into the three sections focused on the three strategies. Each of the chapters in each section ends with a summary of the “big messages” of the chapter as well as one- to three-paragraph “go-do” and “experiment” sections. Perhaps some readers addicted to buzz and productivity might be tempted to focus on these end-of-chapter summaries. If so, they will have missed the point of this innovative and important book.

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