Un-Busy Your Life

Taking up the baton in this issue’s Making Business Personal Relay is Cassie Roma, who reveals the ‘secret’ to creating an environment that allows your creativity to thrive.

If you’re like me, your life is a bit like a hamster wheel. Even during the weekends, we sprint, we spin, we crash exhausted yet raring to go again the next day. And the day after that, and the day after that, ad infinitum.

Always in motion, the rat race (or is it a hamster race?) leaves us feeling a bit like we’re not getting anywhere fast. At some point in our journeys, though, we all realise that the aforementioned wheel has readied us for climbing corporate ladders, but not so much primed us for healthy and fulfilled minds or souls. 

Let’s go back in time a little bit. As children, we’re told that to be successful, we’ll need to be part of cycle – a cog in a wheel, if you will. So we work hard. We know that anything can be taken away at any moment, except our toil. No one can take our toil from us! (I’m doing a little shouty ode to Braveheart in my head while writing this, BTW.)

But why do we do it? Seriously, why? What is it about a flashy, creative title that gets us to give up so much of our time to time-wasters and potential work that doesn’t add value to others? I’ve done a lot of soul-searching and know what drove me for so long. It was really the comfort found in simply being in motion.

Running on empty 

So many of us aim for the top and the top only – in life, at work, with family. As British-American author and speaker Simon Sinek says, we get into “finite mindsets” while playing an infinite game. Sometimes we get so lost in our quest for one-upping another that we forget how important we are as individuals. We forget to take the time to celebrate worthy rivals and to lift those in our care. In doing so, a lot of us get lost in a sprint towards a trio of holy letters – CMO, ECD, SVP. 

We give our all to our jobs and lose a lot of time, sleep, adventures and dreams to it. If we’re 100 percent honest with ourselves, whether we’re working in retail, banking, entertainment, travel, media, you name it – we’re all the same. No matter your title or output, our modern professional lives begin each morning in traffic on the way to work and end each evening in the same way (but in the opposite direction, obviously). We see little of our families and even less of our friends. We passively connect online and watch our children grow up through the lens of our smartphones. Perfectly posed pictures just waiting to be devoured by algorithms and timelines and Instagram likes. 

At work, we’re busy, dammit. So, so busy. We run, run, run on that human hamster wheel until our legs and minds are almost at breaking point. When we get to such a state of exhaustion, integral aspects of our strategic minds start to sit down on the sideline for a breather. 

When we’re so intent on putting one foot in front of the other for fear of crashing and burning, what we lose is perspective. Surely the most important part of running the race is taking in the course around you? But tunnel vision kicks in. We forget ourselves, and often we forget the people we’re trying so hard to impress – our customers. All of this because we, as an industry, glorify the hell out of being busy. 

Burnout, anxiety, stopping

Stress, it is said, can be our friend. And, at times, it can. But when stress is constant and time spent living beyond work becomes less and less, we tend to become more and more unwell. Low-confidence, anxiety and depression creep in and take over. We start operating from places of fear instead of empowerment, which leads to disengaged teams and work that isn’t as great as it could be.

I know this all too well because I’ve suffered quite the millennial burnout – a real, documented thing. Let me tell you, friends, rock bottom isn’t a beautiful place to fantasise about. You don’t fall down and then magically get back up, wipe yourself off, and have a great story to tell once you hit another pinnacle on the other side of the climb. Nope. Rock bottom is cold and hard, and more often than not, it’s a place where we break into a million pieces, some of which never get put back into place. Most of the time, we do it alone without telling anyone or slowing down enough to get off the spinning wheel. 

In reading up on how we can stop chasing our tails and demystify the beauty that we’re told dwells in the act of being busy, I’ve found a lot of scientific studies (not to mention a lot of non-scientific ones) that point towards the beauty of boredom or, rather, just being.

This Niksen is not a crook

I love the Dutch – their art, their colourful nature and especially their quirky humour. Mostly, though, I love the Dutch for their commitment to the power of being bored.

The Dutch have coined an idea called niksen, the practice of purposefully doing nothing. Let me say that again for the people in the back – the practice of purposefully doing nothing. Whoa. How cool is that? 

At the heart of it, adding moments of doing nothing to our days makes a lot of sense when it comes to effective and productive ways of working. Taking the time to do things that seem like a waste of time – like staring out the window or sitting motionless without a screen in front of your face – are important acts of self-care. They’re also the spicy secret sauce of creativity that all of us need to unlock our best selves at work.

When we daydream or allow our minds to wander without boundaries or pure intent, we allow ourselves to embrace the way in which our own individual minds wander. Fun! 

Modern workplaces have breaks built into the day, yet we rarely take breaks. As someone who’s been in the corporate game for a long time now, I didn’t start taking breaks until recently, and even then, when things get – ahem – busy, I push aside my quiet time in favour of meetings, spinning wheels and random deadlines that I exhaust myself delivering. So, if we all know that we need to slow down, why is busywork something we still brag about? When did keeping up with the Joneses take on the tonality of professional time-wasting? As much as we’re a smart crew as a collective, we keep fanning the flames of exhaustion and setting into our foundations bad habits that will follow those that come after us. 

Slowing down is the new luxury. Stopping for a moment to catch your breath and clear your mind – pure bliss. 

Getting un-busy – on purpose

I’ve started to unpack busy for myself and my colleagues. But how? Language. Ninety-nine percent of committing to being less busy comes from the words I use and the words of others. We know that marketers love a good colloquialism or bit of slang to keep us glued together as a cohort. When it comes to glorifying the time-fillers, we need to recognise when we’re using language to put lipstick on a proverbial pig. Dress it up all you want, but each time someone says, “I’d love to help, but I’m so busy and just can’t find the time…”, a magical marketing fairy dies in the Forest of Creativity. 

If doing less but outputting more was actually a thing, wouldn’t everyone be opting for it? You’d assume so. But nope. We’ve been trained to think that quiet time and idle time is time wasted. I reckon both are time well wasted. Without spending moments in stillness, how are we, as creative and strategic beings hellbent on creating awesome work, going to find the space to create? We need time to allow our minds to think critically, to wander creatively. And our muses need rest too.

Which leads me back to kindness, and to being our best selves at work and at home. In a fast-paced industry, the best thing you can ever be is who you are – without a title, without a corner office, without a uniform on. Who are you, after hours? How can you get un-busy?

Take it from a reformed BusyGal™ – reclaiming your time will help you focus on being a better, more productive marketer. Take time to explore the world beyond your daily routine and your creativity will flow. Your clients and colleagues will notice the change, and so will you. 

This article was originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

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