Success Secrets 7: Busy is Better Than Boredom or Burnout!

Endless Summer

If you want something done ask a busy person! Benjamin Franklin

Have you ever asked someone to do something for you only to have to eventually do it yourself – often in a last-minute rush? At work I have suffered the ‘delegation curse’ of assigning a task to someone and then either not having it done properly and/or unexpected delays in it being completed. I then find myself either re-doing the task, (often when I don’t have time) or nagging and micro managing to get things done by due dates – only to damage relationships with my colleagues!

When it comes to delegating tasks, the saying ‘if you want something done ask a busy person’ has proved to be true. People who are bored, as opposed to busy, seem to much take longer to get things done. On the other hand, people who are frantic and on the verge of burnout tend to rush things resulting in ‘on time’ but incomplete or poor quality work. However people who are busy and engaged seem to get things done both on time and to a higher level of quality.

Why ‘Busy’ is Better Than Boredom or Burnout

Why do busy people do a better job of completing tasks on time and of a better quality then people who are bored or on the verge of burnout? The answer lies in Viktor Frankl’s Bridge.

You see, Viktor Frankl, who was a Jewish Psychiatrist imprisoned in World War II concentration camps (where he had to watch his friends and family die), He found it was this ‘Busyness’ – having personally meaningful things to do each day and goals to strive towards (regardless of the level of success or failure in such activities or goals) that was most important in predicting people’s ability to survive great adversity. Dr Frankl referred to this busyness as ‘pressure’ and used the stone arch bridge as a metaphor for living a happy and productive life. He said that our sense of meaning, purpose and personal success arises from having positive challenges and pressures in life.

Purpose Bridge

We need to have quite a bit pressure in our lives to maintain balance, just as the stone arch bridge requires a lot of weight and pressure in the middle to make the structure solid and stable. Contrary to popular belief, the absence of pressure in our lives (ie., living completely free of any challenges – even positive ones) would not make us blissfully happy but rather make us board and unstable. Similar to the stone arch bridge where it is most stable when there is quite a lot of weight on top of it as it closes the arch and make the structure exceptionally strong.

When the weight comes off the stone arch bridge, cracks appear and the arch quickly collapses in the absence of the weight on top, just like our lives when we have no pressure or challenges to face and boredom and subsequent nihilism and despair set in.

But surely it not simply about being as busy as possible?

Yes, your right too busy will bring you to overload and burnout and even a stone arch bridge will eventually crack and crumble from too much pressure. HOWEVER from my many years experience as a psychologist our deeper problems in life are more often related to not enough pressure rather than too much. I often see people who are chronically unemployed, or stay at home parents who are now empty-nesters, or executives who have recently retired who struggle with depression, anxiety and stress due to not having enough life pressure rather than too much.  When I was younger and did a lot of mountaineering it was widely known that the chances of dying on a mountain were always higher coming down from the top rather than on the way up to the summit.

‘Busy’ – Getting the Balance Right

So how do we strike the balance to avoid both boredom and burnout and stay in the zone of busyness?

Any task that is not challenging enough has the potential to become boring. In the same way, having too many tasks that are too difficult lead to anxiety, overload and burnout. The diagram below shows the “zone” at which maximum happiness and meaning can be derived from any activity.

Purpose Zone

Every day can be an opportunity for either healthy ‘busyness’ or boredom, anxiety and burnout. We can improve the quality of each day by improving the way we go about our daily activities. We can increase the potential for enjoyable and meaningful experiences in everyday things. This means that in all we do we need to aim to make tasks neither too hard nor too easy, and always aim to increase the variety and opportunity of our experiences. When we have this balance right we become the ‘busy’ person that can easily help others when asked in both a time efficient and quality manner!

‘Busy’ & Your Next Steps

Stop and review how busy your life is now! Have you got the balance right or are you at risk or boredom or burnout? If you are at risk of boredom then set more goals and plan each day to stay busy and fulfilled. If burning out is more of a risk then reassess your values and your amount of available time and ‘start stopping’ things that are causing overload.

Also remember to maximize the challenge and opportunity, and minimize the redundancy and/or excessive demand each and every day. Strive to make each day rewarding and look for the variety and opportunity within everything that comes your way!

Ride the Waves of Life!

Dr Pete

The Stress Surfer

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