This morning, my older brother and I had a rather depressing encounter in the kitchen of the home we both still share with our parents. I was pajama-clad, pouring myself another cup of coffee as he entered the room with bags under his eyes unlike any I’ve seen on a 23-year-old. Upon asking him why exactly he looked like he just came off of a bender, he told me that he’s been working 13-hour days for the past few weeks. He seemed, for lack of a better phrase, totally fucking beat. Although I am his sister first and foremost, the TFD-er in me felt compelled to sit his poor, exhausted ass down in front of my computer and have him read this article posted on Forbes a couple weeks back, in which writer/millennial-psychologist-extraordinaire Caroline Beaton discusses the implications of extreme busyness.
After stumbling upon this article last week, I have been thinking more than usual about the damaging effects of having a super-busy schedule, and whether or not I believe them to be particularly true. Beaton notes in the article how millennials tend to glorify their busyness, and identifies three different “busyness disorders” – the types of busy that leave us wondering why, at one time or another, we feel stressed-as-all-heck, and still walk away from it all feeling like nothing significant has been accomplished. Busyness is supposed to increase our output after all, right?
For most people, especially young, millennial professionals trying to claw their way to the top, extreme busyness is something to be proud of. The ability to work constantly and consistently hard is a selling point, and a reason to hopefully be hired or promoted over another, potentially lazier employee.
But what happens when you become nothing but your busyness? Does doing too many things devalue each individual thing? And more importantly, what happens when you work so hard that you eventually hit a wall?
Beaton’s answer to that is simple: burnout. At best, burnout decreases productivity. At worst, it is deeply emotionally damaging.
Being busy for the wrong reasons, (or at least for reasons that don’t leave you feeling like you’ve produced anything personally fulfilling or particularly fruitful), is obviously a main culprit of burnout. Beaton states in her article that “‘Good busy’ feels like making progress and adding value. ‘Bad busy’ feels like constantly reacting and treading water.” This is to say that working a job similar to my brother’s, from which you find no personal fulfilment and receive no personal gain, is Step 1 on the path to an unhealthy relationship with your busy schedule. This becomes an even bigger issue, however, when the busyness is non-stop. Busyness is great when it leads to increased productivity. It is not so great, however, when it is so endless that it causes burnout.
An article from CSNBC earlier this year calls out these so-called “work martyrs,” noting a Stanford University study that showed working more than 50 hours results in decreased productivity. In this report on the study, Bob Sullivan explains that “employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours — so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours,” proving the sad correlation between busyness and burnout.
The burnout itself leads to the third, and perhaps most troubling of the busyness disorders: internal busyness — allowing your schedule to swallow you whole, take over your mind, and become you. If being busy with the wrong things and being busy with them often are the first two steps on the road to an all-consuming busyness burnout, internal busyness will surely finish the job.
Down at the opposite end of our family’s ranch, and on the polar-opposite end of the busyness spectrum, I sit in my bedroom sipping my second cup of coffee as if I have any damn idea how it feels to be stressed. My current job situations afford me that absolute luxury of being able to make money without traveling more than 10 minutes from home, for no more than a couple hours at a time. The nature and flexibility of my schedule also gives me time to focus on non-work-related busyness that provides me with a great deal of personal satisfaction.
Between all of my different jobs and side-hustles, I probably work an honest and healthy 35 hours a week, and make more than enough to sustain my simple lifestyle, as opposed to my brother’s insane 65+ hours at a considerably low wage. My own version of “busyness” is nothing like the one my brother, or any person in a similar situation to him, experiences. My busyness comes in waves, but I find such joy and fulfilment in all of my money-making endeavors, and therefore very rarely feel exhausted by my schedule, even when it picks up to 100mph.
However, you don’t need to live it yourself to know what burnout looks like. Sometimes, burnout looks like working 75 hours and producing only 35 hours worth of work. Today, it looks like my brother, rubbing his temples and trying to enjoy the five free minutes he has to eat a bagel before heading to work.
Mary is the summer Media Fellow at The Financial Diet. Send her your summer intern stories (your lessons, failures, triumphs and good advice) at firstname.lastname@example.org
Image via Pixabay