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Too much busyness is an obstacle to a good night’s sleep

Busyness is not a virtue, nor is it a sign of productivity. And nowadays it’s also not a guaranteed sign of success either. In London, I used to work with a retail CEO who regularly reminded me that if anyone said they were very busy or too busy, it was a sign they hadn’t yet learned how to delegate or prioritize their work. Nearly 15 years later I was hearing something similar from a partner in a law firm who suggested, that if a peer said they were very busy or busy, they possibly hadn’t trained their juniors well enough. Now, these were both successful people in their own right, in very different industries, and yet they both viewed busyness as a skills gap. Not much has changed!


If you respond with ‘busy’ when asked how you are doing, then you may be taking on too much. Admittedly busy can also be a phase but in my experience once busy arrives it rarely leaves of its own accord. And when you have too much to do, it has the potential to paralyze you if you’re unable to delegate or re-prioritize your time and efforts. When you have too much to do you’re likely to focus on none of it or you’ll get it done by doing a rushed job on everything, which has it’s own consequences. It’s always better to manage expectations and if you can do less, and do it well rather than to do many things with errors and omissions. 


Here are 7 signs you’re too busy

  • You forget what you’re doing
    Have you ever started to do something and forgotten what it was you’re doing right in the middle? This is a genuine problem for those who take on too much. It’s impossible to focus on everything; you need to re-scope what you’re doing, manage expectations or ask for assistance where possible. 


  • You don’t prioritize 
    If you have no idea what tasks need to be done first or how to project manage your multiple deliverables, then you may waste time and efforts. For example, should you outline your board report or research first? Understanding the processes that can be grouped together will help you prioritize your efforts, and how to prioritize and organize your workload. Often writing this down in a list or whiteboard is helpful to establish the full extent of your deliverables.


  • You’re missing deadlines 
    If you’re working too much and unable to meet deadlines, it’s simple. You’re doing too much or how you prioritize needs some effort. The longer the hours you work the less productive you are likely to be, and the more mistakes you are likely to make. This constant pressure can make it hard to wind down naturally at the end of the day. 


  • You’re not managing your time 
    If you haven’t planned your tasks in your calendar, by setting aside time, you’re not constructively managing your time. How can you then have confidence that you are able to meet your deadlines? Start by mapping out your tasks so that you know what you can achieve and go from there. Often people who manage their time well, have windows of free time in their diary for when unexpected things happen, as life doesn’t always go according to plan.


  • You feel anxious and stressed 
    When you aren’t having enough downtime to rest and re-set then your body stays in a state of high-alert and that makes it hard to relax on demand. Often stress can help you produce your best work, however when you experience sustained stress with no foreseeable end or relief then you start to experience ‘wear and tear’ like colds, emotional outbursts, and tiredness without the ability to sleep well. 

 People in this situation often crave carbohydrate foods, sugar, and stimulants in order to keep going, and they may experiment with alcohol and other drugs. I have had a client switch his 3 pm coffee for an illicit drug to keep going. When you are in that state of anxiety and stress any decision that gets you closer to your goal, seems like a good one. 


  • You miss opportunities 
    Busyness and a lack of planning can often lead to tunnel vision, focusing on what’s right in front of you. This could lead to missed opportunities as your open mind has started to narrow its perspective and block out what doesn’t relate to the here and now.  


  • You get to bed late and can’t sleep
    It’s hard if not impossible with a busy workload or overstimulated lifestyle to get to bed at a reasonable hour and fall asleep within 20 minutes and achieve at least 7 hours of restorative sleep. Your ability to fall asleep is made worse by processing the chatter in your mind about what is left to do, remembering what still needs to be done and the surprises that happened during your day. It could also be made worse if you perceive your abilities are not where they need to be for the tasks at hand. 


If this is what is happening to you at the moment, you are not alone. Busyness is a societal issue that has misguided us into thinking that busyness is needed in order to be successful. Luckily you do have some options available to you, to wrestle some control back and get your sleep back on track. 


How to take back control to get your sleep back on track

  1. Assess what you have on your plate and decide if you need to be doing it. What can you outsource or delegate?
  2. Ask yourself do you really need to be doing that task right now? Yes, you enjoy it but it may make more sense for you to do it later and swap it with something else that would be more productive.
  3. Does this task need to be done at all? Can it perhaps be deleted or binned? Often we do things without considering its temporal relevance, this could be one of those times. 
  4. Set aside time for tasks that are left and determine whether you will be able to meet the commitments and deadlines associated with them. If you can’t perhaps you can share your challenge with a trusted colleague and get their perspective or you could talk to the client and negotiate a revised deadline.  


Whatever you choose to do, remember smart, successful people focus on doing fewer things well to build a balanced, high-quality life. They make proficiency and efficacy a priority over appearing busy and doing more. 


If you are having a hard time getting through your to-do list or saying 'yes' when you really should have said 'no', book in a confidential call with me and we can explore how you can start to better manage your time, wrestle back control, and get your sleep back on track. 

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