Stepping Away From “Hurry Sickness”

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my attempts to take a day off from being busy. Since that post, a lot has changed, and the challenge of unbusying is harder than ever for some.

Between the shift to remote work, increased responsibilities to care for the kids, a spouse/significant other, aging parents, etc, and the need to plan and adapt, I know for many of you, time is still a very scarce resource.

In fact, despite having fewer commitments due to physical distancing requirements, I’m still not doing a great job of being less busy. For all the really hard things this season is bringing, I’ve decided to commit finding some good by taking advantage of the opportunity to reset my schedule.  Here’s why I think, for me at least, now is a perfect time to make the shift to being less busy.

I’m on my phone a lot:
Maybe it’s how rapidly conditions seem to change during the COVID-19 pandemic and my desire to stay up to date. Or maybe, it’s a habit that’s grown over time. But, I’ve noticed that every time there’s a lull in my schedule or I want a quick break, I grab my phone. Sometimes it’s a quick glance at Twitter or to check a few emails. While at other times I find myself lost for long periods of time in the news of the day or social media.

Instead of taking advantage of the open spaces I have, I tend to fill them with more things to do. And, I’m not alone. A 2017 study reported by King University Online found that people touch their phone an average of 2,617 times a day. That is about once every 23 seconds they are awake. Maybe I’m below average and don’t spend 2.4 hours a day looking at the screen, but I could definitely cut back. And, I’d wager that you could, too.

As part of my “less busy” routine, I’m trying to spend less time looking at my phone and more time being present in the moment, doing whatever it is that needs doing right then – or spending time just doing nothing at all.

Who’s heard of hurry sickness?
I recently came across the description of a psychological condition called “hurry sickness.” According to Psychology Today, hurry sickness is defined as, “A malaise in which a person feels chronically short of time, and so tends to perform every task faster and to get flustered when encountering any kind of delay. A behavior pattern characterized by an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency.”

Some of the everyday behaviors the authors identify as indicators of hurry sickness include moving from one checkout line to another because it looks faster. Or, counting the cars in line at a stoplight and switching to the shortest lane or moving back and forth between lanes to try and get ahead. These are all things I find myself doing fairly regularly. And, it’s not just these little behaviors either. I’m a chronic multi-tasker, and I’ll bet many of you are too. But, the truth is, frequent switching of tasks can limit productivity and prevent you from achieving flow – that optimal state of immersion, engagement, and full enjoyment of a task. For me, oftentimes if I find myself not totally satisfied with the work I’m doing, it’s because I’m not able to direct my full attention to it. I’m too busy thinking about the next task or what else I’m not accomplishing. So, as I endeavor to be less busy, I’m also working to find time to focus and enjoy the journey of sustained attention to a task.

Making time for others
One of the biggest benefits of building more margin into your schedule is that you can then use that time to contribute to the success of others. Dr. Richard Swenson defines margin as the difference between our load and our limit. When the stuff we have to do approaches the limit of what we can do, there’s no space to take on new tasks. And, often when our load gets close to our limits (or even exceeds it) the first thing we lose is time to invest in others and to be generous. So as I continue to work to tame my schedule, I’m learning to build in the margin in ways that can free me up to help others. Working to set aside time that can be used to benefit others is a great way to unbusy your schedule. And, becoming more generous with your time and expertise is the perfect way to invest in others and help them free up more of their time too.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed at the idea of taming your schedule, here are a few tricks to survive the stress. And, improving your mindfulness practices can help you be more attuned to when your margins are running thin. Here’s a great article that can help you improve your mindfulness to reduce stress.

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