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Toxic Hustle Culture: How to Overcome the Busyness Trap and Lead a Fulfilling, Productive Life

‘Hustle Culture’ is a loaded term that means showing the world what a boss you are. And as busy people, we live on this. Striving and staying positive – that’s the thing, right? I even have ‘hustle’ in the title of my book.

But it can go too far – and become a ‘toxic hustle’ culture where we are obsessed with being busy and squeezing everything out of every second. What’s worse, it has become somewhat of a competition. Humble brags on social media along with prideful declaration of one being “swamped” are the new status symbol.

In today’s toxic hustle culture, brandishing one’s busyness is like swinging a Birkin bag. The support for this principle is not just anecdotal – a recent article in Harvard Business Review highlights how busyness has become the new status symbol. The result is a reported rise in “time poverty”. So much for luxury bags! This got me thinking – what is “busyness” really achieving for us in the fulfillment of our long-term values? 

I have to admit, I thrive on being busy. Achieving challenging goals, such as writing a book or climbing up the corporate later has given me an exhilarating sense of accomplishment.

And I know I am not alone. We are all superheroes in our own movie. Our Type A personalities command us to achieve and follow one #hurdlemoment with another. We cram our calendars and breathlessly rush through the day. By the time the day turns into night, we are starting to slowly wind down like the energy bunny until we slump over in exhaustion totaly spent. And then get up and do the thing all over again. And again. And AGAIN.

But something can get lost when we Tazmanian devil through our to-do lits. We can get so consumed by busyness that we lose sight of our values, and the people, places and things that really matter enough. We put the wrong things on the throne. This can lead to the phenomenom of “effort justification” – valuing doing something because it was a time suck, not because it actually served a valuable purpose.

Ways to Stay Out of the Busyness Trap

The critical gating question

Before you do the next thing you have to do, ask yourself these three gating questions:

  1. Does this needs to be done?
  2. Does it need to be done now?
  3. Does it need to be done by me?

You may think of this as a risk for procrastinating, but failure to prioritize will lead to inevitably deferring important activities. By following this “test,” you will learn to do the next right thing. We can only do one thing at a time.

photo of person reach out above the water
Photo by nikko macaspac

Slay the The Multitasking Lochness Monster

Which leads to the number one saboteur of productivity – multitasking! To gain a sense of whether you are a chronic multitasker, look at how many tabs you have open (and bookmark my article on tab management if you need to!).

Did you know multitasking is like being drunk? You will lose track of time with multitasking, and eventually you will feel like you are drowning.

A good practice when you have several things to do in the next few hours is to start one task and set a timer. This way you know you only have to focus on one thing for the next 20 or so minutes, and then you can move to the next thing. If it is something you have to finish within a couple of hours, don’t start anything else. Turn off your notifications and don’t answer emails until it is finished.

woman holding tennis ball and racket
Photo by Renith R @ Unsplash

Slow down

Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, everything seems like a huge emergency. It needs to get done NOW! It can’t wait. I cannot take a break.

But when I feel more calm, I can focus and give my work the attention it deserves. I am less likely to make careless errors, even as small as leaving someone off an invite or sending the email to the wrong person. Those are not fatal mistakes, but we waste even more time backtracking and apologizing.

If you ever play tennis, you know when you rush to swing at the ball, it can usually result in a misfire, even a whiff. But when you take your time and focus on your form, it is like you have all the time in the world to hit the ball. The ball is literally slowing down as you keep your eye on it.

There is immense value in slowing down. As counterintuitive as it may seem, it can make you even more efficient.

woman lying on bed
Photo by Kinga Howard @ Unsplash

Top 3 tips to avoid burnout:

  • First, prioritize what gives you meaning and value. Each day is an opportunity to focus on what matters most and live a fulfilling life. Consider the alignment between your values and your to-do list or daily routine, and remove or modify any actions that do not align.
  • Second, reduce the number of tasks you have. Hold the line upfront and focus on priorities rather than time. When someone assigns you a task, consider how it fits in with your other commitments and discuss its importance with your manager. If you can outsource a domestic task at home, like laundry or cleaning, do so. My post below on the DAO of Getting Things Done will help you with the prioritization.
  • Third, use structure to minimize distractions rather than relying on willpower. Set aside specific periods to focus on your most important projects and limit interruptions by creating designated times for team members to ask for directions. Schedule time for reflection and avoid back-to-back meetings. I also find it incredibly helpful to set a time for whatever it is I am devoted to working on. For example, when I am working on my blog, I do so in 30-minute increments.
  • Finally, give yourself “buffer time” between different tasks so your brain can adjust. You naturally will have a tendency to go over your scheduled time, and unexpected disruptions can occur, so it is important not to try to do anything back-to-back without accounting for breaks.

If you feel overwhelmed with busyness, these strategies can help you prioritize what matters most, reduce your workload, and minimize distractions, leading to a more fulfilling and productive life.

Here are some additional blogs I have written to help with feeling overwhelmed, on productivity and meditation:

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