Australians are addicted to being busy. It’s time to start trading energy for impact


We are all living in an epidemic of urgency and busyness. Unless we are flat out and working ridiculous hours, we are judged, and we often judge ourselves as lazy or unproductive.

People constantly say they are tired, exhausted and overwhelmed. They can’t keep up with the pressures of modern-day living. It’s like we are always ‘on’ and have no idea how to hit the off switch —we don’t even know there is one!

In Australia we work 3.2 billion hours a year in unpaid overtime, we have 134 million days of accrued annual leave, and 3.8 million of us don’t take lunch breaks. And 7.4 million Australians don’t get enough sleep.

We seem to have become ‘rest resistant’. We are addicted to being busy and it’s preventing us from getting the rest we need to perform at our best.

Urgency is the new black

‘Busy’ is the natural response to ‘How’s work?’ The effect is cultures that pride themselves on ‘fast-moving’ or ‘adaptive’ workplaces. But they are often white-collar sweat shops, pushing people beyond their limits, and the result is burnout.

The notion that busyness, frantic-ness and stress are indicators of hard work and productivity has been around for over 2000 years. It seems that we are somehow wrong if we aren’t feeling these things.

The industrial revolution specifically linked time to money as the advent of artificial lighting enabled 10-to 16-hour workdays. It wasn’t until Henry Ford introduced the eight-hour workday, and profits increased exponentially, that people started to think differently about productivity by the hour. His profitable methods, in effect, refunded two to eight hours to his workers every day.

In a culture that values hard work and productivity, we feel we are ‘winning’ when we are going hard all the time. Because being busy increases our level of (self-) importance and can become addictive, we may feel guilty or ashamed when we aren’t busy doing stuff.

So we have a bit of conditioning to undo!

Instead of trading time for money, we need to trade energy for impact

For example, we are all familiar with the model that says I give you x hours of my time in exchange for y dollars. But what if we instead focused on the idea that I give you energy, value and impact in return for dollars?

Instead of thinking about how many hours I need to put in, I think about exchanging the most valuable and impactful work each day.

It’s time to reframe laziness

If you have a dog or a cat, watch them. They spend most of their time sleeping, with intermittent breaks for eating, pooping and running after a ball or a bird.

For years researchers have proved time and time again the positive impact of restful activities:

  • Daydreaming, and even boredom, promote creative thinking;
  • Discovering non-work- related activities that both rejuvenate and excite you will provide the energy you need when it’s time to get down to work. They also create an awesome contrast frame so you’ll enjoy work-related activities even more!;
  • Being in flow: Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi coined this term in the 1970s for what happens when we become ‘so immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity that we lose sense of space and time’. And we get more done! Up to 500% more, according to a 10-year McKinsey study;
  • Socialising: we get cognitive boosts from social interactions, and we also experience higher levels of intellectual performance; and
  • Disconnecting from work: those of us who can disconnect from work are healthier, more engaged when we are at work and less prone to procrastination.

Being less busy isn’t the issue. The real opportunity here is to take time out. To stop and take stock of where you are at and make some decisions about how you want to work.

Without some level of mastery and control over your time, at best you will lose opportunities and at worst you will become ill.


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