Work Smarter Not Harder

"Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”—Ovid

I love it when a successful, self-described workaholic admits the error of her ways! 

Arianna Huffington comes clean in her new book: Thrive.

“I wish I could go back,” she writes, “and tell myself, ‘Arianna, your performance will actually improve if you can commit to not only working hard, but also unplugging, recharging and renewing yourself.’ That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout and exhaustion.”

It’s a life-saving message we all need to hear: Constant busyness can be hazardous to our health and well being! 

I call it ATBS–Addicted to Busyness Syndrome. And it’s epidemic among women. We stuff every cranny of our lives with so much activity that we’ve lost touch with what’s truly essential and what’s really irrelevant. Busyness has become our drug of choice

Like any drug, busyness is not only a downer. It’s a dangerous form of self deception. We fool ourselves into feeling productive, when we’re actually undermining our success, yet ask us to lighten our load, actually say no to a task, and we start to panic as if our world would shatter if we slowed down.  

I didn’t realize I suffered from ATBS, until a few years ago, when a crisis—my longtime business partner and I suddenly split–forced me to slow down, to surrender, to reflect and regroup. What I thought would be a brief downtime due to burnout became a life-changing detox from busyness. 

I’m the first to admit: Busyness is a bitch to give up! Without endless activity, we’re left with empty space. And empty space gives rise to painful feelings.  (For me, I felt antsy,  unproductive, like a failure and a fraud) Rather than experience the pain, we fill up the spaces. 

But, as I've learned from my Busyness Detox, when you face what you fear, you find it no longer controls you. When you eliminate the unnecessary, you discover what really matters. And though detoxing from frenetic activity is never easy or comfortable, it's freeing beyond anything I expected.

Here’s how I did it:

  • I did it gradually. (I didn’t go cold turkey.)
  • I made it a game. Every day I asked myself, what can I take off my to-do list today?  
  • I forced myself (at first) to allow downtime, to just stare out the window or take a long walk.
  • I felt lots of guilt, anxiety and agitation. I let the feelings surface, felt them fully, and wrote about them in my journal.
  • When I caught myself slipping back into busyness, I took a few deep breaths and stopped immediately.

After a few weeks, I started noticing that, contrary to popular opinion, relaxation is a powerful force and that slowing down actually speeds up the creative process.

Once I cleared my calendar of the nonessentials, I began to hone in on what I deeply desired. Once I put empty space in my day, a slew of ideas and insights began to emerge. Of course, so did the fear. But once I faced the feelings I’d been suppressing, I was no longer controlled by them.

When I slowed down, I saw my life more clearly. Decisions became obvious, thus easier to make. Opportunities abounded and I had the energy—and time—to grab them. 

So I ask you… What could you slowly start cutting out of your day? I invite you to observe all the needless activities you cram into your life—from constant emailing to extraneous chores.

What if you didn’t take work home but took a walk or played with your kids? What if you responded to emails only once a day? What if you didn’t answer the phone and instead stared into space?

Maybe you’ll find what I did. It’s only in stillness that you’ll hear the secrets your soul yearns to share. It’s only in the quiet that you’ll discover your path.

Barbara Stanny is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.

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