Busy? - How to Thrive in a World of Too Much

We are always busy, especially in the event industry. Running from one challenge to the next. Business psychologist and best selling author Tony Crabbe, gives his vision on how to drive in a role of too much and always busy.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Cynthia Sjoberg
Cynthia Sjoberg
New|2017-11-28 - 21:23u

I manage Celeste Headlee’s speaking engagements. Celeste was on the TODAY show and is a guest at all four Women’s Conferences (avg 11,000 attendees). She is an author and recognized as the Conversation expert for Plenty of Fish.

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We are always busy, especially in the event industry. Running from one challenge to the next. Business psychologist and best selling author Tony Crabbe, gives his vision on how to drive in a role of too much and always busy.


Hi Tony, welcome to our studio.


Nice to be here Kevin.


You are a best selling author on the book Busy, but why is it that when you ask someone how are you they always answer with busy?


Do you know what, I think it’s just a couple of things really. But one of the first things is we’ve mistaken for years that busy is equated with success. I think we’ve grown up with this idea that more is a self evidently good thing, more of everything really but applied to work, more work, more activity is a good thing. So therefore, somehow busyness is a symbol of our importance and necessities at work. I was struck when I was writing first of how quickly and how urgently we need to turn the phones on at the end of flights which speaks to something more than just, we need to pick up the messages, but something about it speaks to our identity. I think it’s also just an easy thing to say.


It is.


There is research that shows it’s a brand, we actually actively compete with other people to be the busiest. So we actually brag about it deliberately. But we don’t just say I’m busy, we sell it to people. We explain our busy, but let me give you an example and we go through in great detail our week. So there is something about a brand there as well.


On the other hand then, you sell a lot of those books, so there should be a reason why it’s not so okay to say we are busy.


Yeah, and I think on one level, in the moment, I think there’s a difference between psychology between shall we say what’s hot decision making and cold decision making. So there’s some things that we know are good for us in the cold light of day, but in the moment we don’t choose them. I think we often choose busyness, because in the moment, it’s the easier option. And research consistently shows that we tend to choose the dull and the easy over the interesting and the hard. So I think busyness is somehow... Because we consistently choose the obvious and easy activity like email, like just demonstrating how active we are, as opposed to maybe spending time doing the things that really matter that deeper conversation, coming up with those creative ideas, which less easy to show our productivity. And so there’s more risk associated with that. We default more often to the busyness and so therefore... because we’re aware that we’re busy, we actually try and justify that by telling people we’re busy.


But what is the pit-fall for ourselves, of being too busy?


Well look, the impact on well being is well established. I mean in the Netherlands, one in seven people suffer some form of burn out. One of the consequences of busyness is this kind of steady state always on. So from the moment we wake up we’re just active, active, active, active until we go to bed. And that builds something called the anosmatic load... Because really the brain and the body are designed for intended bursts of activity, followed by recovery. We don’t really have many breaks nowadays, it’s just go, go, go, go. And then with the phone allowing us to stay always connected as well.


And especially in the events industry.


Yeah. And that’s the thing. And actually some research shows the consequence would be very harsh. The consequence of being always on is equivalent to smoking marijuana or losing a nights sleep when it comes to your IQ, so it’s downsides there. But also, really we’re on call all the time, particularly in something like the events industry. We know that even when we’re off work but when we’re on call, the level of the stress hormone in our brain, cortisol is almost the same as when we’re at work. So because we’re always on call, we’re never having a chance to recover. So part of our busyness isn’t just what we do at work, it’s actually we’re not recovering properly outside of work. But I think in terms of it on a wider perspective, we live in an attention economy. We only really notice genuinely interesting, surprising or innovative things. Because we’re so overwhelmed with messages, with ideas, there are so many events companies doing more or less the same thing. And the Davos World Economic Forum looked at how do we succeed in this world of just too much information attention and robots. And they came down to three things. Thinking properly, creativity and genuine connection. But our busyness undermines all three of these. So I think there’s a well being perspective to impact of business, but there’s also a performance impact.


But if we know being busy is bad for us, what is the alternative?


The alternative is a couple of things. First is actually making tough choices. Actually we can talk about choices and we can talk about prioritization, but the key thing is, the stuff that we choose not to do. The brain naturally, when it’s choosing, the standard question the brain asks when we’re choosing something is whether or not. And you know, the experience at the buffet table: you sit at the buffet table and you say whether or not I want chicken korma or whatever the case may be, and the answer is always yes. So I don’t know about you, but I end up with a massively overfull plate.




I’d send it back to the kitchen if the chef served it. We do that in life as well. We ask ourselves whether or not it’s worth doing that new project whether or not it’s worth going to that client meeting whether or not it’s worth signing my child up for that other after school activity, because these are all worth while things. But really, success comes not from doing everything. We know from corporate strategy, often the really super successful people. Success doesn’t come from doing everything, it actually comes from doing few things really well. So actually the question we should be asking isn’t whether or not. Because the answer if we like our food at the buffet table or in life is nearly always yes. What we should be asking is which; which is the best use of my intention right now. I think part of my problem at the moment with the tools that we use is we think the answer is in managing our time better and organising ourselves betting. But really all that does is make me actually do more stuff which isn’t the answer. What we need to obsess about isn’t time, it’s attention. Because let’s be honest, an hour at 9 o’clock on a Monday is a fundamentally different unit to an hour at 6 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. They’re just not equivalent. But we need to be really intentional about how our brain works and how we can use our attention better. Because in the standard office, the standard state for the brain is to be reactive, shallow and distracted. And that isn’t good for anyone.


Yeah, I remember it's about choosing. People who want to learn more on the subject, they can of course buy your book. Where can they buy it, on Amazon?


Yes, it’s kind of available everywhere really. So it's on Amazon, it’s on the Apple Store, there's audio books available for it, so yes, it’s pretty available.


Okay Tony. I want to thank you very much for sharing your thoughts today.


It’s been a real pleasure Kevin, thanks very much.


And you at home, thank you for watching our show, I hope to see you next week.