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why you must get off the merry-go-round of busyness

May 26, 2016

By Kimberly Inskeep, cabi Founder, President and Chief Culture Officer

Why do we wear “busy” like it’s a badge of honor? Why is there so much that has to be done every day…and so perfectly? Why do we fall into bed at night thinking we’ve been highly productive though we made no progress on our biggest life goals? Why has it taken me so long to realize busyness is a trap…a merry-go-round spinning so fast that I fear jumping off for the sake of missing out or even being hurt?

At a recent leadership event we held in LA, one of the speakers shared this story.

Two men—one old, one young—were tasked with cutting down as many trees as they could in one day. The younger man felt confident he could cut down many more than his older rival, who presumably did not have his strength and vitality. Every hour the older man would take a little break, while the younger man hacked all day, growing all the more confident his tree-count would be far higher at day-end. When the opposite became true, the younger (now exasperated) man asked the older man how in the heck he chopped down more trees when he took a break every single hour. The older man explained: “Yes, I did take breaks—to sharpen my axe.”

Our actions need routine refinement to be effective,and we cannot experience refinement without an important act of courage—the willingness to risk the world passing me by while I take a moment to pause, learn, refine, rebuild, and then re-enter.

We have to break through the barriers of busyness in order to do the “real work” of our lives. I’ve recently set aside 90 minutes, three times a week, to dig in on something that really matters and develop a new skill that will make a huge difference for me in the years to come. This hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to carve out time and create new space to think deeply and grow. To others, it probably looks like I’m not focused on the more important, pressing, and urgent things. It also means I’m clearly not “juggling it all,” as I’ve had to say “no” to things more than I’m used to. I’ve had to really let go of others’ opinions in faith that I’m on a track that will have me growing in meaningful ways.

A book that has significantly impacted my approach to business is Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline—especially his thoughts on personal mastery. He says, “When personal mastery becomes a discipline—an activity we integrate into our lives—it embodies two underlying movements. The first is continually clarifying what is important to us. The second is continually learning how to see current reality more clearly.” In other words, we must slow down to re-engage with what we’re truly after and also to assess if we’re actually on our way to getting there through what we’re doing right now.

Beyond creating space for self improvement for the sake of a better future, the other side of the “slowing down coin” is all about the present. How often does a full day whirl past us, without our truest and deepest engagement? How much does our schedule impede our thoughtfulness or cut short time spent with those we love? How much of the joy-in-the-moment do we miss out on when we must rush to the next thing? We think busyness gives us more of the things we love, when it really may be stealing our enjoyment of them.

We may think we can’t afford to slow down, but we can’t afford not to. Our futures and present realities depend on us showing up as our full and best selves, willing to get off the merry-go-round to go many layers below the frentic hum of our busy lives.

What would 60-90 minutes, three times a week, give you? What worthwhile skill could you learn? Is there one thing you can take out of your present schedule in exchange for time spent at a slower pace, thinking and growing?