How Being “Addicted to Busyness” Sets You Up For Failure

We have career ladders to climb, businesses to keep afloat, children to raise, classes to attend, appointments to keep, emails to answer, meetings to go to, errands to run, housework to do, and on and on. We’re swamped. We’re pressed for time, and we frantically rush from one activity to another. So many things need and take our attention; we don’t even stop to think about what our overloaded lifestyles are doing to us. We are all afflicted by the busyness disease.

The Busy Numbers Talk

I just completed a quantitative research project to understand the scope of busyness better, and here are some disturbing stats I published in the 2023 National Busy Research Report:

  • 75% of the population would like to be less busy. The same 75% say they don’t have time for what’s important.
  • Over half the population believes getting their work done is a significant challenge or impossible.
  • 62% use multitasking as their key strategy to get through their workload. Multitasking means it takes 2.5 x longer to complete a task, and it is 3x more likely to have mistakes
  • 60% of respondents are unhappy or just “doing ok.”

Has busyness set us up for total failure? Think about it. We genuinely want to be less busy, so we can focus on what’s important, but we start every day knowing that getting our work done is nearly impossible, and we know it, but we still try.

We are multitasking to get more done in less time, but in reality, doing multiple things at once takes two and a half times longer and is riddled with mistakes. Being overloaded, overwhelmed, snowed, swamped, tied up, and stressed, there is not enough time for all the activities you are committed to or want to do. But the big kick in the gut regarding busyness is that it’s not making us happy.

Busyness as an Addiction

No one gets the busyness trap more than me. I am a recovering Busyness Addict, which is very hard to admit. “Eat, work, sleep, repeat.” It’s been my mantra for years, and I learned it from my father, Ted Kahn. He and his mother, Lena, and Father, David, escaped the concentration camps during World War II with the shirts on their backs. At age nine, my dad got his first job pulling wagons of groceries for the neighborhood because no one had cars. He earned 25 cents per wagon and, on a good week, would make $20, which helped with family groceries. Having nothing and the pressure to help pay for necessities drove him to “eat, work, sleep, repeat” at a young age and carry on his workaholic tendencies for 57 years.

When you think of addiction, you probably think of drugs and alcohol. However, you can be addicted to anything. Addiction is being compulsively or physiologically dependent on something habit-forming. Being busy is habit-forming. For me, I love getting stuff done, and the more challenging, the better. It gives me the ultimate endorphin rush. Long hours of work and lack of leisure time have now become a powerful status symbol, and we brag about it. I call it Busyness Bragging. And countless other trends have led us to our current busyness epidemic.

  • Our Technology Bubble is enabled by three powerful and highly distracting trends: smartphones, social media, and extreme consumerism.
  • Expansion of 40-hr. work week; Over 90% of workers work 50 hrs. a week & almost half work more than 65 hours.
  • The Leisure Gap. Americans have 11 hours less leisure time per week than last year. We have less time for play, limited or no vacations, work weekends or evenings, no breaks, back-to-back, everything.
  • The rise of low-value interactions. 79% of midlevel management indicate they spend their time on low-value tasks or low-value interactions, for example, the VP of purchasing spends more time approving $100 POs versus $50k above.
  • We teach our young to be busy, and we start their overscheduling and multitasking at a young age: dance class, scouts, gymnastics, playdates, or all of the above.
  • Multitasking is the strategy most utilize to get their work done.

We all intuitively know why busyness is problematic. Your cup is full, but you are not acting with purpose. Being busy does not mean you’re happy or fulfilled because you need to focus more on what you value. More importantly, the busy treadmill leads to physical health issues, including fatigue, appetite loss, digestive issues, poor sleep, immune disorders, muscular tension & many others. And the mental health consequences often result in stress, depression, anxiety, inadequacy, sadness, loneliness, overwhelm, and so many others. Not to mention burnout. We need to stop living in a state of busyness all the time. My research indicated that 74% of Americans are feeling some burnout. Finally, another reality of being busy is that there is no time to nurture relationships professionally in our office or at home with family and friends, so we damage our relationships.

Like all addictions, my addiction to busyness cost me dearly. It destroyed my first marriage and has deteriorated my physical-mental health many times. I once ate a handful of cat food, thinking it was pistachio nuts! My poor cat ended up eating the nuts, which sounds funny, but my inattention could have killed him. I was such a zombie that I didn’t realize cat food was in my left hand and pistachios in my right. 

The first step in treating addiction is realizing and admitting the problem. Busyness is not a status symbol or a sign of importance or productivity. Being busy does not mean you’re happy. It’s the opposite. I am a busyness addict, but I have learned how to control it so it doesn’t take over, and you can do the same.

About the Author

Peggy Sullivan is a women’s leadership speaker, mindset expert, and founder of the nonprofit organization, SheCAN!. She is also the author of the book, “Happiness is Your Responsibility.” Peggy is a strong advocate of utilizing the power of happiness to achieve personal success, professional growth, and increased health and wellness. She has won numerous awards and honors, including the 2019 Woman in Leadership Award from New York State. Peggy has also been featured in Forbes Women, FOX, and BloomTV and has presented and consulted worldwide for organizations such as Bank of America, Blue Cross BlueShield, Ingram Micro, and WomanUp Conferences. You can connect with Peggy on LinkedIn and Instagram and book a Clarity Call for her Busy to Better Organizational Wellness Program here.