Now, I know what you’re thinking – controversial topic, yes? Or perhaps it’s more ‘you have NO idea – of course there is such a thing as ‘too busy.’ I can see how you would think this because of course, one could argue, there are simply far too many demands, whether in work life, home life, relationships – it doesn’t really matter – for the capacity that you as a human have to deal with.

You could also argue that a rapidly accelerating culture of ‘drive, drive, drive,’ and ‘work, work, work’ is responsible for the even more rapidly accelerating phenomenon of burnout and stress-related illness.

In today’s society, we’re expected to produce more work, at higher and faster rates than ever before. But this, my friends, is not the reason people burnout. The recipe for burnout requires a whole host of psychological factors that are thrown in as an accomplice to the ever-increasing volumes of work we find ourselves facing.

The truth of the matter

What, I hear you ask, might those be? Well, it all comes down to one of my favourite Tony Robbins’ quotes:

“Nothing has any meaning except the meaning you give it.”

Yep. That’s right. Have a think about this for a moment. What is the meaning that you’re giving your work? What is the meaning you’re assigning to the idea that you have not, shockingly, blitzed your entire workload in one hit? What is the meaning you’re giving to the fact that you still have a bunch of work to get through?

Honestly answer all of those questions and therein lies the problem. Chances are, you may not recognise the deep murky beliefs that are underlying your thought processes. Or maybe you didn’t even get that far and you’re still stuck on the feelings you get when you think about work (most likely a wonderful concoction of panic, anxiety, tension and stress). I shall give you some clues. And note, this is coming from a previously very guilty candidate – world class I should say…

The winning formula

Perfectionism: identified by the catchphrase ‘nothing I do is ever enough.’
People pleasing: identified by the inability to say no to others and taking on too much work as a result of it, as well as a fear of failure (the ultimate fear here is being judged or seen as unworthy).
Beating yourself up: tying in beautifully with perfectionism, you have impossibly high standards and scold yourself constantly for not meeting them.
Over-analysis and complexity: you approach your work by putting a lot of weight on smaller tasks and details rather than taking a step back and using a more strategic approach.
The belief that everything is hard: every task is a chore, there is no element of ‘enjoying the journey.’
The ‘S’ word: another one of your catchphrases; you are always thinking about what you ‘should’ be doing as opposed to celebrating what you have already achieved.

Turning it around

Now I’ve given you a flavour of these winning ingredients, the first step in changing your ‘busy-busy’ story is to recognise when each of these ingredients rear their ugly head. Perfectionism is potentially the most damaging and will feed into the whole shebang.

So how do we identify perfectionism? One might argue that it is simply looking at how high one’s standards are. Which is true. Of course. But, what you really want to watch out for is this sense of never being enough. No matter how many amazing things you accomplish, no matter what you plough through during your working day – there will always be more to focus on. And all of your brilliant work gets forgotten about. So that’s step number one.

What are the stories you are telling yourself?

It’s also about recognising your language and the stories you’re telling yourself – ‘oh my god, I’ve got so much on,’ ‘I just can’t keep up with it all,’ etc, etc. Whilst these may feel like true statements, you are only reinforcing that message to your brain who will ramp up the stress hormones and make it seem even more impossible to deal with.

Just think, there are some world class leaders out there who, from the outside, have an insane amount of responsibilities and priorities to juggle. What makes them different to you? It’s the way they think about their work, and the words they speak in creating their world.

Now, unfortunately, I can’t jump inside the head of Barack Obama or Bill Gates but I can take a guess at some of the language and stories they use when embarking on their day. Things like “It’s all good, I’ve totally got this,” and “I know that whatever I get through today, will be exactly what I was meant to get through” are going to be pretty high up there. Some other more useful stories you might like to start telling yourself are:

  • “I’m perfectly okay with having unfinished work around me – I’ll get to it when I’m ready”
  • “I’m so pleased with everything I’ve done so far – I’m really proud of myself for what I have accomplished”

Where’s your choice?

One other simple yet rather crucial point, I almost neglected to mention…you DO have a choice. Is that a revelation or what? It can be rather easy to find yourself feeling sucked into a vortex of continuously growing work but actually, you CHOOSE what you do and don’t do. This ties in closely with tackling that inner people pleaser – don’t say yes to work just because you don’t want to disappoint. Say yes to work because there is an absolute need, or you have decided it is something you enjoy and want to do. Take the reins and approach your work from a place of empowerment – only YOU can decide on what happens next.

You create your world

So take a step back and really think about it – what world are you creating for yourself? What world would you like to create instead? If I were you, I’d drop the ‘B’ word altogether and start focusing on something altogether more useful. You have a choice in what you do and don’t take on, and you most certainly have a choice in how you choose to feel and respond.

Further resources

Preventing burnout e-book (pdf download)
Coming up next – ‘A practical guide to beating the illusion of busy’

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