8 signs that you’re addicted to busyness (Part I of the Doing Less Series)

(This is part one of a multi-part series on doing less. Get on the list to get the next installment right in your inbox.)

It’s recently come to my attention that I have a habit of, or perhaps even an addiction to, proving my worth through constant activity.

This habit has been on my radar for some time, but only vaguely.

Within the last six months, however, my awareness has gone from vague to crystal-clear.

But before I divulge my own path to realization, I’m curious to know how many of these statements describe you?

If 3 or more of the above statements describe you, youre addicted to busyness.

For me this addiction started long ago. Before I was even 10 years old, I used to map out my playdates and make sure I had something scheduled every day after school. I bought my first Day-Timer calendar when I was 14. In college, I was incredibly proud of the fact that I was taking more than the required course load, performing regularly with a dance company and in musicals, and starting my first business.

This is all to say that if you’re addicted to busyness, I feel you. Big time.

Obsessed with Busy

We live in a culture that celebrates being busy. We are obsessed with getting it all done and fitting it all in.

Our tendency to gorge ourselves on food is mirrored by our tendency to gorge ourselves on activity.

My wise uncle Phil said the following to me after he had a very vivid dream about me and my breakneck schedule:

“You’re going to have to learn to stop validating your existence through action.”

That one hit me like a punch in the gut.

I’m outing myself here because what I’ve found is:

The human experience is not so individual. If it’s happening to me it’s likely happening to you.

Here’s the thing: 

twitter_standingConstant doing makes us miss the moment. (Tweet it)

How many meaningful conversations in the car with my husband have I not had because I was checking my email for the twentieth time that day?

How many breaths have become shallow from being caught in the spin of constant activity?

How many precious moments of stillness have I missed because I feared what might come up during the pause?

I’m practicing doing less. I’m sharing this practice with you because I bet you want to do less in order to feel and be more in your life too.

In the next installment of this series I’ll share specific ways I’m finding space to do less in my life. I’m really looking forward to hearing your ways too.

For now, let’s both be aware together, shall we?

We’re ambitious. That’s awesome.

We’re capable. Go us.

We know how to make sh*t happen. No doubt.

And our worth no longer needs to be proven through action.

Let us know our worth in simply being.

Let us know we’re enough because we are.

Let us begin to let down the burden of busy.

 

Over to you:

Which one of the “addicted to busyness” statements above best describes you? Are there any other habits of your addiction? Are you ready to lay it down with me? Leave a comment below. I’m really looking forward to hearing from you!

  • Dawn says:

    Yikes, this is so me. I’ve been aware that I have a problem for awhile, but I don’t know how to fix it. Trying to appear to be awesome all the time is ruining my life.

  • gwen says:

    sigh..:almost every single one describes me..

  • I actually don’t have this particular addiction but am still affected by it. The constant doing-ness of our culture, and the reward and value given to and placed on super-productive people makes me sometimes feel less-than.

    I know who I am is more important than what I do but I’ve often felt like I am falling behind when I compare myself to others. I think for everybody, no matter what your natural constitution, it is difficult to find peace with being in our Western culture. People who move at a more relaxed pace can end up being seen as slackers.

    When I travel abroad it is usually apparent at the different paces of life people live at. In my husband’s city in Romania I don’t think you can even get coffee to-go. You have to sit and drink it like a civilized person at a table out of a pretty ceramic mug with a tiny spoon. I don’t want to have to leave this great country to be myself and feel good about it. I know this is part of a greater lesson of not needing external validation for who I am and what I do, but to feel my value and worth regardless.

    • Kate says:

      I love what you said Jennie. I so resonate with it. It was really helpful for me to read your comment about not needing external validation for who I am and what I do, but to feel my value and worth regardless. I used to live the life of busyness and I much prefer how I live now. I couldn’t go back to the old way, but now you’re helped me feel good about my new way. Thank you to you and to Kate for this great blog post that spurred this awakening.

    • Janet Hughes says:

      Jennifer, Thank you so much for your comment. I too am not on the business train, but often feel judged by friends and family (and society at large) when I am content to spend a quiet afternoon with a tea and a good book. While I enjoy my quiet/down time and know that it is part of who I am and needed for me to be healthy and happy, I often have this sense of guilt simmering under the surface that takes away a little of the enjoyment.

      • Jane Nagy says:

        I have also heard many comments from friends and family since I retired 3 years ago after over 35 years of hospital nursing ,such as “What are you going to do now??,How can you stand not DOING anything?? Aren’t you afraid you will just sit around and get fat??”….Hearing this is hurtful and insulting…why do others feel compelled to pass judgement on my decision to leave the workplace while I am still able to enjoy retirement? Many times nurses will struggle with the decision of when to retire,their jobs of caregiving are so much a part of their identity and feeling worthwhile….many will continue to “keep their foot in the door” of their workplace several years longer than the typical age of retirement…it seems to be fear based…I shouldn’t feel guilty for being able to wake up each day and choose for myself how I am going to spend those hours of freedom….I’ve earned them!!

  • Michelle R. says:

    Far and away, the most troublesome of the bunch for me is the constant checking of social media, the false sense that I’m going to miss something “important,” and that my voice won’t be heard when I want it to be… But my husband has made an impassioned plea (maybe a couple) that I put down the phone and engage with our real world – our home, our children, our relationship – rather than always trying to chat with someone “out there.” I’m trying to find the balance (or at least the equilibrium state so that I have a margin of error) and some days I even feel like I’m succeeding!

  • Elizabeth says:

    F! Every single statement describes me, my day, my actions!

  • Carol Hess says:

    Oh, Kate, this is a subject near and dear to my heart! I could become addicted to paper clips given half a chance, but for some reason I’ve never caught the busyness addiction. Maybe that’s why it is so obvious to me when I see it in others. I will cop to an occasional feeling of guilt when I haven’t had a “productive” day, but I think that’s more society’s addiction to productivity rubbing off on me than my own thing. And I immediately reframe my belief and show my guilt the door. Buh bye!

    I think the root cause of this particular addiction is the not always conscious belief that so many women have that we are not enough. Therefore, we have to “earn” the space we take up on the planet by being productive. The truth is we are inherently worthy by virtue of the fact that we exist. We don’t have to earn a damned thing. We are deserving because we are, because we are all precious children of the Divine.

    Thanks for bringing up this topic. It’s an important one. I can’t wait to read your upcoming posts.

    • Kate says:

      This is beautiful Carol. I especially love what you noticed about it probably coming from a fear that we are not enough and therefore believing that we need to “earn the space that we take up on the planet by being productive.” That’s been the place I’ve been living in and it feels awful. Thank you for freeing me.

  • Catherine says:

    There is a wonderful teaching that your blog reminded me of: “We mix up adrenalin for happiness”, Psychology of Vision

    Thanks for the reminder Kate!

    Catherine x

  • Leah Slags says:

    As I am in motion with getting a new yoga studio up and running, business is actually teaching more about yoga than yoga poses! There’s always something to do. Always. For me, personally, I have to remember that money is not my supply, Spirit, God, Universe and all that is love is my supply. And if I stay focused on that, which occurs in (Pomodoro Technique-ish) bouts of stillness and deep breathing, I’m back here. Now. In all that is real. I love what you’ve said here about busyness. And although I may bury my head in the sand and say that’s not me, I answered yes to every question! My name is Leah and I am a busyness addict. (And still deeply and profoundly accept this about myself) <3 your energy Kate!

  • Rachel says:

    Well said. It is super important to slow down. I wrote a blog about “Do Nothing” as a reminder to myself and others.

    http://www.rachelroseboucher.com/do-nothing/

  • Emily says:

    You had me at “white space.” That’s the word I use to describe my tendency to fill everything up. Not just my calendar but my house, my body, even a page of doodles.

    I’ve known about this problem for a long time and never quite know what to do about it– even though I know how to quiet my mind in meditation and just be in the moment. Today is my birthday and I feel like your message is reaching out to me in particular. I need to sit with that for awhile.

  • Christina B. says:

    There are a lot of things that are deliberately winding us up in this culture that we are unaware of:

    i) TV/NEWS: I discovered this a few years back when I totally quit watching tv (and reading mainstream newspapers). It was by accident, and it was a complete miracle. I can’t believe how much hype, b.s., over stimulation, commercialism, biased information is crammed at us from the tv. For five or six years now I have not had tv in my home. I do not let it into my private space (my home or my mind). I cannot bear to turn it on these days if I am in a hotel for example, or in a publc space where its blaring at people. I will do everything to get away from it. No tv/mainstream news has been a true and lasting peace.

    ii) CONVENTIONAL FOOD: Our mainstream food has A LOT of additives that deliberately excite the brain and wind you up. Sugar, caffeine, MSG… there are food “flavor” scientists that work for the big food corporations and their only job is to figure out how to get you addicted to junk. They design it that way for Big Food to make more profit. Its done by chemicals that hit the brain in just the right way. Real food that delivers real nutrition calms your body down. Relaxes you. No screaming cravings. Your body is at peace.

    iii) EMFs. They’re everywhere, look it up. The worst now is the nefarious “smart” meters the electric companies force people to have on their homes. Its becoming the equivalent of microwaves and many parents are complaining that it makes their kids hyper, disoriented and sick (not to mention the adults). EMFs from computers, cell phones, cell phone towers do the same. I personally have to go to work every day on a cell phone tower (Tmobile put one in the middle of our building!) and I feel shattered energetically every day. It takes a day and a half on the weekends for me to recover (sleeping on an earthling bed, standing barefoot on the ground, employing any technique I know of). Come mid Sunday is when I once again feel normal in my body, only to have it start all over again the next week. EMFs are getting worse in this country and because profit is valued over public health.

    This consumer culture definitely worships productivity and profit. Its a cultural mandate. It is not sustainable however, for our peace, our health, our communities or the planet. There are some insidious things like the above mentioned that are definitely contributing to it in addition to the insane cultural paradigm. Personally I am a total rebel. Throw away your to-do list for the day. For the week! See how it feels. (fyi – it feels freaking AMAZING) Deliberately be NOT productive for a while. take a nap. sit under a tree or on a rock in the middle of a stream. walk at the edge of a lake or ocean. lay in the grass. go for a gentle hike in nature. Ask yourself, WHO are you being conned into being productive for? Who is getting your time? Your life-essence? A slave driving exploitive corporation or firm? Do we really need more more more? And more of what?? Turn off your electronics completely for the weekend and see what happens. Have a “no commercial” Xmas (this one will make you really unpopular with the mainstream). Don’t buy things when the media is trying to force you too. I learned such peace, such clarity by being constantly vigilant about what I let into my home, my body and my mind. You finally get to hear your true voice. Your true being. And you get to make better decisions from that. On what YOU value and not what this crazy insane society values.

    • Denise Dare says:

      You bring up so many important points, Christina!

      Yes. Yes. And YES.

      Thank you for being part of the conversation + sharing these powerful alternatives to mainstream busyness.

      So much appreciation. :)

  • Nitsa says:

    You are right Kate, I’m going through a period in my life where the kids are in school I’m in between jobs but feeling sooo unproductive that I stress myself out…

  • kevin says:

    Very insightful, I meditate, do the occasional yoga class and attempt being in the moment, but is it enough? No, of course not. The question I have and I know it is illogical, what do you do when not doing? Working to spend on more stuff no! Helping others, loving, maybe but there is still a drive to make progress.

  • Omg Kate! This is such a fabulous timely email, thank you!! I have been feeling so tied up in busy lately and it is exhausting. I am going to focus on racticing slow today and so looking forward to your next instalment on this topic! Xx

  • Stephanie says:

    It was quite an effort but for the first time in 3 years I said “No” to teaching kids school part time. It is only 15 days – but by the time April rolled around I typically ended up working 3 to 4 weeks straight and having no down time. I will miss the teaching but for the first time in a long time – I said no to more work so that I might focus more on my real career and relax more when I step away. I would love some more suggestions! It is hard to stop being busy – even on weekends – I tend to do “chore” list instead of full on relaxing…

    Like you said – you don’t think you will be alone with this problem – my retired mother still seems to struggle with not being busy!

    Thanks!
    Stephanie

  • Lisabeth says:

    I can check off EVERY single ONE. And I know it about myself. It’s tough to slow down… Particularly since there’s a level of pleasure in “achieving”! My brain is wired to go go go. :) So glad for your reminder!

  • Jennifer Ciglar says:

    First off, let me just say…wow! This blog post hit home hard in a few ways. For myself it was…

    •When you do find yourself doing nothing, you feel of guilty that you aren’t being productive.
    • You mentally tally the number of productive hours you’ve had at the end of the day and judge how you feel about yourself by how full your day was.
    • You find yourself “complaining”about how busy you are while simultaneously feeling proud of having so much on your plate that you can barely breath.
    • You say that you’re too busy to meditate, move your body, nap, hang out with your girlfriends, make love, prepare healthy food for yourself, or go on dates (with yourself, your spouse, or new people).

    I was also overjoyed to be able to share this post with my Mother. She is guilty of ALL of these! Thank you a million times over for this great posting and as usual, your postings always happen to arrive right when I need them the most.

  • Kimberly says:

    I’ve been gradually becoming aware of my addiction to busyness, too, lately. I catch myself all the time, with my inner critic nagging me. I look forward to more in this series, Kate. We can do less & be more. :)

  • Stephanie says:

    Every. Single. One. Of these is me. Weekends not crammed full of plans give me crazy anxiety. If I don’t have 3 things going on at once at work I feel so unimportant and unfulfilled.

  • Jamie says:

    Ug, it’s like you’re in my head! I just got back from my Wisdom Course and one of the leaders called me out on this same thing! He said, “You don’t have to prove that you are big. You are big because you say you are!” I act like I’m so special because I have all these “commitments,” but really what I got present to is that I’m committed to looking busy! Can’t wait to hear more about how you’ve made space to do less!
    xox

  • Sue Tunny says:

    This is so me. Unfortunately it has been me for so long that it is all I know. I am a single mom and business owner and wellness consultant. I have always had to keep this pace to keep things going and accomplished. It now has become me and I don’t know how to stop the nonsense. I could really use some help. I even get edgy and grumpy if I am not getting something done. I can go a day or maybe two with slacking off but then guilt sets in and I try to make up for lost time. HELP. Thank you for bringing this out in the open. I would love some advise and direction on how to be productive without feeling the pressure and guilt when I am not. Glad to know I am not alone and look forward to changing my behaviors and way of thinking with these issues.

  • Sandy says:

    I am guilty of being obsessed with busyness. I am in much need of help. Lol.

  • Afraid of what may come up during the pause…!! I should have screamed this in all caps. I never heard this expressed before Kate, thank you for bringing it up. I can resonate with all the points, and I read this blog with my mouth open…waiting for more. Many times with many people I keep talking just to fill in the awkward pause. Then, afraid of what may come up, I continue to babble and blurt! Wow…
    I am sharing this not only to let my friends see it, but to keep it as a reminder to me to read it often…and quit babbling. That may be hard at first, but I will pratice…silence is golden. Oh my. Thanks again Kate. Cheers, Elizabeth

  • Larissa says:

    This is excellent! I came to this realization a few months ago and I am making a great conscious effort to change. What a wonderful change it has been too! I am so excited to read and learn more from you!
    Thank you for doing this.

  • Denise Dare says:

    I’m soooo grateful you’re raising awareness about this, Kate!

    I noticed this problem in my life long ago + started with simple shifts…like changing the way I speak about my life. I now say my life is full, I no longer complain about being busy. I realize that my actions + my schedule + my thoughts + my life are my choice.

    I also really tuned in to my own desires {thank you Danielle LaPorte for the soulful guidance!} and got clear about what I wanted + needed to feel how I want to feel…this guided me to let go of the shoulds and trying to meet everyone else’s expectations + needs.

    And, I learned how to get on the no train {thank you Marie Forleo!} and really start making myself + my own well~being a priority in my life.

    Now this looks like me creating time for 3 yoga classes a week {and not feeling guilty about asking my honey to nurture our girls while mama nurtures herself!} + meditating {even for just a few minutes} each morning + giving myself time to write and grow my biz {and being willing to ask for help + support!}.

    Ahhh, so much goodness when we slow down, take time for what we truly desire, and let go of the busy~ness that is preventing us from creating the lifestyle that will fulfill us.

    Yes to doing less + feeling more.

    Yes to striving less + aligning more.

    Yes to effortless effort + being in the flow of this sweet life.

    So much love + appreciation,

    D

  • Denise Dare says:

    p.s. This book was a piece of inspiration for my transformation years ago…maybe it will be a sweet + simple starting place for many of us. :)

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Doing-Nothing-Yourself/dp/0609600745

  • Katie says:

    This very much describes me and many of my clients. Especially “Our tendency to gorge ourselves on food is mirrored by our tendency to gorge ourselves on activity.”

    Knowing that I want to slow down, I find myself slowing my business down too. I would like to find a way where my business can grow without me feeling like I have to race 100 MPH to keep up with it.

    • Kate says:

      Katie-so true! Slowing down does not necessarily mean slowing down your business growth. What you need is leverage (using the internet, other people, etc.) so that the buck doesn’t always stop with you!

  • Catherine says:

    Ok – Yes – this is me.
    Sometimes my busyness is so overwhelming it actually paralyzes me. I can’t think straight, let alone act on anything.
    What happens – is that “things” then sit for a period of time before I get to them. And guess what? Nothing bad happened because I didn’t get to that item on my “To -D0” list this week. Huh – I guess it really wasn’t that important after all. What an ephiphany. :)

  • Karen Trepte says:

    Love this, Kate! I find this to be so very true. I am a lover and a seeker of great time management tools. I recently discovered a great app called, “To Doist.” I even wrote a blog about it in case it might help you and your readers. http://bit.ly/1zp8mFq

  • Kirsi says:

    Wonderful article! I completely agree! Thank you Kate for sharing. I think it is so important for all of us to get out of our own busyness. I have been there and I actually wrote an article about it for The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kirsi-paalanen/4-warning-signs-that-you-are-burning-the-candle-at-both-ends_b_5824348.html
    PS – I just finished reading your book Kate. LOVED it!!

  • […] **uh huh, peeps. this does describe me a bit too! how about you? thanks Kate Northrup […]

  • eva says:

    Kate, this was exactly what I needed to read this morning…before I got up, I was lamenting that I “don’t have enough” in all areas…not enough money coming in, not enough clients, not enough time to do…. This “busyness” has been plaguing me for years…always feeling that I’m “not good enough, not successful enough, not fill in the blank enough”…whenever I hear of a friend of mine enjoying themselves in some way by going on vacation, a retreat, just going out to have fun, it’s never me…I deny myself these joys and it needs to stop…looking forward to your next posts…
    thank you for the wake up call…

  • Jo says:

    Wow the truth in this actually made me cry as I went through ticking nearly every statement… I would also add an addiction to being late (I thrive on the adrenaline high of arriving 2 minutes late to everything but can’t seem to break the cycle). It hit home even more as my dad has recently retired and is now suffering really bad anxiety attacks and insomnia which is the adrenaline he was (unknowingly) fuelling his body on for so many years in a stressful job now having nowhere to vent. I don’t war to end up like that too. Looking forward to this series!

  • Ding ding ding! The “being guilty for not being productive” is mine for sure! I’ll find myself taking time to rest and relax, but there is always that nagging voice in my head, telling me that I COULD do more. It’s very difficult to find a stopping point. But it’s realizing that there is no set timeline for any of my goals or dreams. I could be 100 years old, and as long as I am alive, I have time to do what I love to do. So I might as well enjoy these moments, because there is no rush to finish. It’s much easier said than done, but if you say it enough, and really allow yourself to relax and enjoy the moment – it gets easier and easier.

    Thank you for another beautiful post!

    Best,
    Brittany

  • Abilene says:

    Dear Kate,

    Thank you so much for sharing this!

    I just read your email, since I was so busy, lol.

    Yesterday, I was working out lifting weights with my partner and I asked, “What do you in between sets as you ‘rest’ for a minute?” He said, “You just ‘rest.'”
    I looked at him puzzled and said, “Ok… I can write a book, read a book, or answer emails.. there’s so many things I can do in a minute.”

    This is obviously a problem.

    I’m ready to take this on along side with you. Will follow you more closely to connect.

    One question: How do you just be though? I have meditated in the past, but would love to hear your answer. :)

    Blessings and love Kate!

    -Abilene

    • Kate says:

      Abilene – your story is hilarious – I’ve so been there! Next few posts will talk about what to actually do when you do nothing. Stay tuned!

  • Kim Parker says:

    Hi Kate,
    I am on a mission to do less, so your email is timely. Thank you. How I am managing to slow down is by making 7 hours sleep minimum a priority. I plan my day, making sure that I don’t get less than 7 hours (most nights) and I am finding that even though I am doing less (as per my old never ending to do list) I am happier and feel so much better. Anyway, once you start shortening your to do list and you get things done, you still feel productive. It’s all relative x

  • […] far in this doing less series, I’ve shared 8 signs you’re addicted to busyness, how to find space to do less in your life, and my 11 rules for sane […]

  • Annie Vanaskie says:

    Wow, Kate. This post describes me to a T. I always say “I can’t sit still to save my life.” I’m hoping that some of your wisdom will help me figure out how to redirect my energy in ways that help me.

    • A Belaire says:

      Annie…. you and me both. Embarking on this journey in 2015 as a 40+ girl…… I am struggling to figure out if an old dog can learn new tricks though. It feels big and scary for me since it feels like it’s part of my DNA. It seems crazy to say “I can’t sit down without feeling like I should be doing something…” — this effects me daily.

  • kait says:

    You find yourself “complaining” about how busy you are while – GUILTY AS CHARGED! Actually, what a relief!

  • […] there was the “Doing Less” blog series that I felt like I just had to write. Talk about a […]

  • […] you prove your worth through constant activity, measuring how you feel about yourself against an ever-changing list of daily […]

  • Suzy says:

    I changed my entire biz focus & personal focus a few months back to Doing Less including launching ‘My 365’ the first day of fall. Choosing not to work, create or fill up space for 365 days! Holy Moly,
    My mantra: Do Less: Feel more, Hear more, Love more, Connect more…be more. I’m documentating my feelings, emotions, hurdles and the magic that happens when doing less.
    Fantastic post about a very important piece to happiness and health. xo

  • Deborah Jones says:

    My name in Hebrew means busy bee. What in imprint that made. However, until my forced time out this year due to breast cancer, I misunderstood bees. A bee only does what it needs to in order to thrive. My version of the bee found the most exotic flowers, gathered double the required amount of pollen, produced enough honey to sustain a tri-state area and nearly died. Now I am truly learning to simply do what it takes to thrive and doing so with love and grace. Kudos to you for this series and I’ll be watching for advice and strength! Enjoy every moment with baby P!

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