Are You Losing Your Humanity to the Scourge of Busyness?

Are You Losing Your Humanity to the Scourge of Busyness?
Image credit: REUTERS | Claro Cortes
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My client, "William," (name changed) wakes up at 4 a.m., heads into the office at 4:30 and begins his work day at 5. He ends his “first shift” at 6 p.m. and after dinner begins his second shift until drifting off to sleep around 11 p.m. William has put himself into cognitive overload. He’s so busy he’s forgotten how to be alone with his thoughts.

Another client, "Rachel," a self-proclaimed workaholic, is too busy so she skips lunch, saying she just eats stress. Rachel sleeps with her blackberry on vibrate under her pillow so she doesn’t miss any messages or calls from overseas while not waking up her husband. No surprise, she has trouble getting to sleep, goes through the day fatigued and is often trying to monitor what’s happening in her company’s manufacturing plant through the window while working on her office computer and fielding phone calls.

Both individuals are stressed out and don’t feel like they’re doing anything well. I explained that it's simply because their busyness is the enemy of their business. They aren't just trying to do everything, they're trying to do everything all at once. Like having multiple apps open on your smartphone, it’s draining their batteries and impairing their performance.

Related: The 7 Secrets Self-Motivated Entrepreneurs Know

I share these stories to help you realize you’re not alone. We are all running a race, but the question is: Are we slowing down enough to enjoy the trip?

It’s the very same reason Jet Blue recently launched a powerful short film, Human Kinda. We all fight the epidemic of busyness and Jet Blue’s comedic documentary addresses the challenges of our busyness in an entertaining way. The company championed the project because it aligns with its mission statement: Inspiring Humanity.

According to Jamie Perry, vice president of brand and product development for Jet Blue, the airline made the short film a comedy because you can’t preach to people but you can be irreverent and humorous to get the same point across.

According to a Harris poll, the vast majority (86 percent) of Americans believe the nation has a “busyness” epidemic. Among those who do, 68 percent say stress causes and/or contributes to this epidemic. The first step to improving anything is taking inventory of where we currently are. I encourage you to do exactly that by taking Jet Blue's busyness quiz and see how you rate. (I scored a rather unimpressive 70 percent.)

In an interview with the film's producer, Bianca Giaever, she says that she finds it hard to change her habits:

"It’s hard to reprogram deeply rooted instincts of ambition. The film has me trying to change my mind state so I’m operating from a place of peace and confidence, not chaos.”

The hardest aspect of my job as an executive coach is trying to get CEOs such as William and Rachel to sit still for 20 minutes a day in quiet, contemplative thought. William confided that he couldn’t make it five minutes much less 20 so we dialed it back to 30 seconds.

Do you ever shut everything down and sit still with your thoughts? See how long you can create a distraction-free environment and simply be present in the moment to reflect.

Related: Stop Multitasking. You'll Get More Work Done.

How to begin to change your behavior.

“When I’m meeting people for the first time, I ask about something they’re excited about right now, or what they do in their time off, rather than asking 'What do you do?'" Giaever says. "It’s nice to take some of the focus off of people’s jobs, and more on what they do as people.”

It's a great reminder that we are more than what we do and also a great conversation starter at holiday parties.

There are two strategies Arianna Huffington uses in her company to create clear work-life boundaries. While work and life may not ever be perfectly balanced, you can create boundaries to stay present in the here and now. Huffington spoke at a panel discussion held at the movie premier and she shared two strategies to improve performance, presence and productivity:

1. Devices are banned in meetings.

“We have banned devices from meetings," Huffington said. "Because you go to meetings and everyone’s on the phone -- supposedly taking notes but really updating their Facebook, or doing something else -- we’ve given everyone beautiful leather notebooks to take notes. My leadership meeting has gone from one hour to 30 minutes.”

2. Out-of-office responses are used during vacations.

“We have a vacation email tool, because the worst thing that people do is to go on vacation and try to stay busy, connected to work," Huffington said. "And that is more stressful than anything."

The out-of-office response reads: "Arianna is on vacation. If this is urgent contact her chief of staff, Dan Katz. If it is not, email her again on Aug. 11. This email will be deleted.” 

She cited that this allows people to return to work less busy and distracted because their email inbox is how they left it.

My clients will be implementing these tips. It's perfect advice not just for meetings or vacations but also as the holidays approach.

The Harris Poll that Jet Blue commissioned for the film also indicated that more than one third (37 percent) feel burdened by “busyness” during the holidays. As Black Friday nears we should remember not to be so busy that we trample each other for sales the day after being thankful for what we already have. 

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Related: 7 Secrets for Tackling Your 'To-Do' List Everyday