kim waltman fullcircle creative + coaching busy inhibits EQ blog

Think about this for a moment. When someone asks you, "How are you?" what is your response? Is it that you're "busy?" In a world of hyper connectivity to careers and information overload, it seems insanely "busy" schedules are the new status symbol. Or are they?

Several months ago, I was discussing how exhilarating business had been from day one to the present with a company owner. He remarked that life seemed to be getting busier and we talked about the overwhelm of trying to keep everything moving forward while balancing family + work.

I acknowledged life’s endless array of opportunities and challenges and shared the observation: “When I ask people, ‘How are you?’ their response a majority of the time is, ‘busy’.” I continued: “I get that people are busy, but why do we wear busy like a badge of honor (read: the busier I am, the more successful I feel)?

We sat there for a few minutes contemplating. And then, as if it were scripted, an individual poked his head around the corner exclaiming, “Hey, Kim! How are you? It’s been awhile.”

“I’m well, thanks. It’s good to see you. How are you?” I replied.

“Busy,” he said. “Crazy busy,” he added.

The owner and I exchanged glances and grins.

“We were just discussing that topic,” chuckled the owner.

I’ve noticed a couple of trends recently:

  1. While “busy” is an answer to the, “How are you?” question, it’s the easy answer. It doesn’t require much reflection or thought and doesn’t offer genuine insight into how someone really is.

  2. Perception is everything. Somewhere along the way, the perception of “busy” started to equal good which in turn equaled successful. In our current state, a majority of us are wearing “busy” like a badge of honor. How does being “busy” correlate with success?  

It appears, from literally every single conversation I find myself in, that “busy” has become our default response. I’m betting it’s become so engrained, we’re unaware it’s our answer.

“Busy” protects us; it enables us to hide from our authentic selves.

Think about your average day. If you’re like most, you hurry from one meeting, task or event to another. Have you ever stopped to consider what’s lost by being “busy”? When we are ‘doing’ from sunrise to sunset, unable to breathe deeply and calmly while savoring the moment, everything seems to run together. We bask in the thought of someday being able to slow down and enjoy the journey. I’m challenging you to undo “busy” sooner rather than later.  

Essayist Tim Kreider wrote a captivating op-ed  for The New York Times a few years ago titled "The 'Busy' Trap." Here's some of what he said.

"If you live in America in the 21st century you've probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It's become the default response when you ask anyone how they're doing....Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren't either working or doing something to promote their work....Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day."

If you’re wondering why I care so much about the topic of “busy”, I assure you the answer is simple: “Busy”, just like perfectionism, inhibits emotional intelligence (EQ).

Being wrapped up in a tightly-knit cocoon of “busy” doesn’t bode well for what I fondly refer to as the three layers of EQ (according to scientist and author Daniel Goleman):

  1. Your ability to identify and manage YOUR own emotions
  2. Your ability to pick up on the emotions or others and manage them and, in doing so,
  3. Build trust, grow influence and achieve better outcomes with others

That’s a lot to be aware of and manage. How can these three things occur when we’re addicted and consumed by “busy”? Experience and observation tells me these three EQ attributes can’t take root. So, I came up with a solution: Slow down.

CEO Tim Askew of Corporate Rain International penned a succinct and impactful article, "Why Being Busy Isn't Cool," for Inc. magazine I encourage you to read. He cites the perspective of psychologist Rollo May:

"The pause is especially important for the freedom of being. What I have called essential freedom. For it is in the pause we experience the context out of which freedom comes.... When we don't pause, when we are perpetually hurrying from one appointment to another, from one 'planned activity' to another, we sacrifice the richness of wonder. And we lose communication with our destiny."

Making a conscious effort to slow down is beneficial for growing your EQ and myriad of other reasons. Take a closer look.

12 Benefits of Slowing Down

  1. Be more focused—our brains cannot handle going from task to task like a pinball.

  2. Make fewer silly mistakes—making deliberate thought-out actions saves you time + energy. A lot of truth in the phrase: “Haste makes waste.”

  3. Have better end results—You have time to plan and time to execute the plan.

  4. Notice more—it’s about what you see along the way; not just getting there.

  5. Realize what matters—when we start to appreciate what we already have instead of thinking about what else there is to ‘do’ and ‘acquire’ your relationship with self and others improves.

  6. Learn how to let go (and stop forcing things)—Important things don’t happen quickly. Everything moves at its own pace in divine time and in order and harmony with forces much larger than you’ll ever be (no matter if you’re a person of faith or not).

  7. Be more sensitive to others' needs—Moving at a fast rate forces us into our own heads. We’re inclined to be nurturing EQ skills when we reside there.

  8. Gain more perspective—When you’re stressed, rushed, etc., you lose perspective and you’re more likely to react to things. When issues arise, you may feel as if the whole world is falling apart. Letting the issue sit empowers you to make better, clear-headed decisions.

  9. Enjoy a quieter mind—slowing down means you do less and have less to think about. To tap into your own thoughts, you must have a quiet mind. It’s only when your mind is quiet that you can hear your inner voice guiding you.

  10. Discover more happiness—personal experience tells me: doing less results in me needing less to reach a state of contentment.

  11. Have less "easy-highs"—We receive instant gratification by perpetuating our fast-paced lives (somewhat of an addiction, by the way) which delivers a “high”. But the “high” is short-lived. So we keep going back for more. And then we’re caught in the vicious circle we’re all too accustomed to!

  12. Make fewer errors—You’ll be more inclined to notice when something has gone wrong sooner. When you rush, you don’t notice what’s “gone wrong” either with a task or in connection to another human being.

"Busy" is clearly a choice. The more I pause to consider the phenomenon, the more it looks like a poor one. Why do you think "busy" has evolved into a status symbol? What steps have you considered taking to "unbusy" yourself?