The upside of busyness …


Photo by Ryan Tang on

Photo by Ryan Tang on

When I worked in a professional services firm, being “busy” was worn like a badge of honour. When asked how people were, “busy” was the usual response. With exchange of pleasantries, the usual question asked was “Are you busy?”

I used to think busyness was over-rated. I’ve since discovered, there’s an upside to it!

Perspectives on busyness
Usually, busyness refers to having a lot to do and a limited time in which to do it. This perspective alludes to time pressures. There is another view point to consider though.

Feeling busy gives a perception that you are a busy person. That can mean feeling valued and important. This may be important in terms of relevant social groups eg work groups, friendship groups, professional bodies or society in general.

The self-concept lens on busyness
Research conducted by Chattopadhyay, Wadhwa and Kim (2018) looked at the impact of busyness on self-perception. They found that the perception of oneself as a busy person — a busy mindset — can increase people’s self-control by boosting their self-importance.

The study looked at the impact of this busy mindset on a person’s decision-making and other daily/lifestyle choices. This included decisions like:

  • exercising versus relaxing
  • spending money versus saving, and
  • food consumption choices

The results showed that the perception of busyness consistently increased the ability to exercise self-control.

How to use this information
This suggests to me, that being busy with things to do contributes to a sense of purpose. An improved sense of self-importance enhances self-confidence and self-control. It also means you have less time to think about alternative choices.

Work teams operate better when members are kept busy. They are more productive and if managed well, are more likely to exercise initiative to find ways to improve processes or outcomes.

The opposite also holds. With not enough to do, people have less to focus on and are less focused in what they do. Likewise, if there is too much to do and people are overloaded, focus and efficiency can be compromised. Both conditions can impact team morale in a variety of ways. The key is to find the right balance of workload and people to do the work.

What about you? What are your experiences of busyness?

Chattopadhyay, Amitava, Wadhwa, Monica and Kim, Jeehye Christine. 2018. “Feel Busy All the Time? There’s an Upside to That” in Harvard Business Review. 6 June 2018.




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