Feeling stressed and unproductive? Here's how to stop being busy and be mindful instead

Ask anyone how they are these days and you’ll get a common reply: “busy!”  In most organisations, being busy is worn like a badge of honour. But busyness is a state of mind. It can also be a form of laziness.

Sure, we all have lots to do, but if we all get caught in the “I am so busy” state of mind it can drain our energy and reduce our effectiveness. It can also limit how much accountability we take for our productivity.

Mindfulness can shine a light on this collective mind-state, bringing awareness to just how often we fall into the busyness trap. When we are addicted to mindless action we lose our ability to prioritise by getting distracted by the latest urgent or enticing, but perhaps less important task.

There is growing evidence that we can be as addicted to action as much as any other type of stimulant or habit. Accomplishing any task – big or small, essential or superfluous – delivers a rush of dopamine to the brain. Dopamine is a naturally produced and highly addictive hormone. When released, it provides a fleeting sense of enjoyment and gratification.

Because of this instant gratification, the brain is constantly looking for a new dopamine kick, and quick, easily-achieved tasks like email do the trick. The consequence is that we tend to focus on short term outcomes, feeding the busy “to do” list, and losing sight of larger goals and objectives – which, of course, negatively affects our performance.

You can check it out for yourself. Tomorrow morning when you arrive at your desk, just as you are about to jump into action, sit down and look out the window or at your computer screen. Don’t act. Don’t talk. Don’t solve a problem. Just sit. Do nothing. For three minutes.

If you find the test difficult, if you are challenged by the inactivity and get restless and feel the urge to be busy — you are experiencing some degree of action addiction.

Indeed, action addiction is rife in organisations large and small.

Getting clear on your priorities - as an individual, a team and an organisation - is critical to creating the conditions for focus. The trick is to revisit these priorities regularly - each day, each week, each month, to assess changing conditions and make choices about what you will not do, as much as what you will do.

PRACTICE TIP: Every morning, as you start your work day, take a couple of minutes to sit quietly before you jump into action. Take two minutes to contemplate the top three to five things that are priorities for that day, and a few more minutes to plan where these will fit into your day’s schedule.

Mindfulness is the ultimate disruptor because it interrupts our autopilot reactions and leverages that space in time between stimulus and response. This present moment awareness allows us to respond rather than react to the constant pressures, demands and distractions of modern work life.

Mindfulness enables us as individuals, teams and organisations to get “One Second Ahead”, to press a collective pause on the autopilot reactions and instead to focus on doing the right things, rather than just things. And I can assure you that the satisfaction of achieving important goals, and feeling better along the road to completion, is a lot more gratifying than the short term dopamine hit that comes from being addicted to mindless busyness.

Gillian Coutts

Gillian has over 20 years of experience as a leader and change agent in the sales and operations functions of large corporations. Gillian is a Partner with The Potential Project Australia. Her clients include Yahoo!7, Telstra, BUPA, and large not-for-profit organizations. She is also a co-author of the book “One Second Ahead – Enhancing Performance at Work with Mindfulness”. 

Twitter: @GillianTPP

Website: www.potentialproject.com
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