Have you found yourself complaining about how busy you are, possibly to a spouse, friend or coworker? If you’re like most of us, you do this on a regular basis. You almost can’t help it, especially when others start talking about how busy they are in their lives.
“I know, right? I feel like I can’t get anything done.”
It’s a phenomenon referred to as busy bragging, and it’s common throughout Western culture. Is that because, as a culture, we tend to value people who are busy? Is it because we’re afraid of looking lazy if we aren’t as busy as our peers? Is it because we’re fishing for more congratulations and support for our work? Or are we stretching the truth to get out of some responsibility? Chances are, it’s some combination of these factors.
Still, with the demands of the modern world and the fact that “stress” is a subjective experience, it’s easy to blur the line between being busy and feeling busy. So, how can you tell if you’re not really busy — you’re just “busy bragging” — and what can you do about it?
Look for these signs:
1. You’re getting plenty of sleep.
It’s recommended that we get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night, but the average person gets less than that, presumably due to conflicting obligations or a lack of prioritization. If you find yourself getting a full 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, good for you — you’re taking care of your body and setting yourself up to be more productive. But at the same time, your schedule probably isn’t that full.
2. You work less than 47 hours a week.
The average full-time employed American works 47 hours per week. If you’re working fewer hours than that, you’re statistically less busy than the average person. That doesn’t mean you should be aiming for 47 hours a week — any more than 40, and you might be over-straining yourself. This is just a gauge you can use to compare yourself to the “average” population.
3. You aren’t sending or receiving as many emails as your peers.
Ask around the office and see how many emails your peers are sending and receiving each day. The average is near 121 emails each day, though this may vary depending on your role and industry. Email is a fantastic indicator of your workload and productivity, since it’s involved at least indirectly in almost every task you’ll need to accomplish. You can check your email productivity using one of these email productivity tools.
4. You’re childless.
I don’t have kids, but many of my friends do; and it’s enough for me to see that having a kid is a massive time burden. Parents automatically have dozens of hours a week occupied with feeding, clothing, transporting, entertaining and generally taking care of their kids — even if they have some help on the side. If you don’t have a child to take care of, you’ll feel silly about how busy you felt once you do have one.
5. You see your friends and loved ones regularly.
The busiest people in the country don’t have time to spend with their friends and loved ones. Their friends gradually drift away from them, and their romantic relationships and family bonds suffer. If you get to spend quality time with the people most important to you on a regular basis (i.e., a few times a week, or even every day), you’re ahead of the curve.
6. You’re taking breaks and vacations regularly.
Breaks and vacations are important. If you keep trudging through work without giving yourself a chance to decompress and reevaluate your life, your productivity will suffer and you’ll head toward burnout. That said, if you have the time to take vacations regularly — at least a week’s worth of days off in a given year — you probably fall squarely into “average” levels of busyness.
7. You’re caught up on the latest episodes of your favorite TV show.
This may seem like a strange sign, drawn from our current preoccupation with addictive TV shows, but it’s an important relative measure of how busy you are. When you’re watching TV, you’re relaxing, and the average American watches nearly five hours of TV every day. That’s a flabbergasting amount of leisure time to people whose schedules are truly packed. So if you’re all caught up on TV and are used to watching it regularly, you might want to rethink how busy you really are.
You can also take this quiz to gauge how “busy” you really are, taking into account things like your family status, job and hobbies.
This shouldn’t suggest to you that being busy is a bad thing, or that you should make an effort to either increase or decrease your workload. In fact, psychological research suggests that people are actually happier when they’re busy than when they have nothing to do. The most important point here is that you should be aware of how busy you are and why you’re busy; why brag about how busy you are when your responsibilities are actually relatively limited? Why have you chosen these responsibilities in the first place?
We all need to look a little deeper and learn more about not only our work-related habits, but how we think about and respond to those habits.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!