Why Being Too Busy Also Affects Your Productivity

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If you constantly feel like you’re spread too thin, you’re not alone. Whether being swamped at work is keeping you from accomplishing all the assignments on your desk, negatively impacting your personal life or both, it’s not uncommon to feel like you need more hours in the day to do it all.

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In fact, 59% of Americans struggle to keep their life organized with everything they have going on, according to a 2019 survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of H&R Block. Consequently, 1 in 5 respondents admitted to putting off 20 or more tasks due to a lack of free time.

Despite the frustration that can accompany being too busy, it’s often perceived as a status symbol, according the 2017 study “Conspicuous Consumption of Time: When Busyness and Lack of Leisure Time Become a Status Symbol,” published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“A series of studies shows that the positive inferences of status in response to busyness and lack of leisure time are driven by the perceptions that a busy person possesses desired human capital characteristics tics (e.g., competence and ambition) and is scarce and in demand in the job market,” wrote the research team.

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Even with the stress that can come with being too busy, it’s possible you consider it somewhat of a motivator.

“We often fall into the trap that the busier we are, the more productive we’ll be,” said Dr. Lauren Cook, PsyD, a therapist, speaker and author. “While this can be true in the short term — hence why procrastination can still be king for many — it’s ultimately an unsustainable pace.”

She said people often have one of two things happen — or both — in this situation.

“They either become burned out, unable to concentrate at all and feeling numb or they are so overwhelmed with the pace that they miss the details that matter and struggle to concentrate,” she said.

When it comes to being busy, especially with work, she said the old saying “Haste makes waste” rings true.

“Cutting corners in the short term often leads to growing pains in the long term,” she said.

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While busyness is motivated by perfectionism, a sense of purpose fuels productivity,” said Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., a celebrity psychologist.

“Being busy entails working longer hours, whereas being productive entails working smarter,” said Lombardo, who is also the author of “Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love.” “It can also cause a rise in tension and a drop in self-esteem.”

She said this can lead to more serious mental issues, such as anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse. However, she said you can ease this problem by periodically removing yourself from the office and detaching from work. For example, if you’re working from home, you might always feel like you’re on the clock, which can result in long-term tension. “Inquire with your boss about the expectations for when you can unplug,” she said.

When working remotely, Lombardo recommended separating your personal and professional with actions like dressing professionally each morning and creating a dedicated workspace in your home.

“Detach and transition to home life each day by changing your wardrobe, going for a drive or stroll or doing an activity with your kids,” she said.

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Whether you’re working from home or at the office, feeling like you have to multitask to make a dent in your to-do list probably isn’t sustainable in the long run. In fact, psychologists who study the impact on cognition when people try to perform multiple duties at once have found the mind and brain weren’t designed for heavy multitasking, according to the American Psychological Association.

Therefore, instead of trying to listen in on a conference call while responding to emails and updating spreadsheets, it’s probably best to focus on one task at a time. Consider updating your to-do list each morning with every task you need to accomplish by the end of the day, and allotting a specific amount of time for each one.

This will likely have a positive impact on the quality of your work because you’ll be able to fully focus on each task. Consequently, you’ll be able to work faster, make fewer errors and think more creatively.

While you want to do it all, you’re only human. Therefore, it’s important to know your limits and push back when you have too much on your plate. Enjoying a sense of balance is crucial to your health and well-being. Setting boundaries will allow you to complete work you’ll be truly proud to stand behind.

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Last updated: Sept. 29, 2021

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