How to get a grip when you’re ‘crazy busy’

  • By Paul Schoenfeld Special to The Herald
  • Monday, May 4, 2015 5:07pm
  • Life

It seems like all of the successful people in our society are, what I like to call, “crazy busy.”

We value adults who seem to be in constant motion all of the time. If you call them, they can’t call you back right away because — they’re busy. If you want to get together with them, they’re not available — because they’re too busy. At work, if you stop them in the hall to chat for a few moments they can’t — because, you guessed it, they’re too busy. Let’s face it: we are all too busy for our own good.

To some degree, life in the 21st century demands more from each of us. Workplaces want more from their employees, husbands and wives expect more from each other, kids demand more from their parents, schools require more from families, and there is still no shortage of laundry and dishes to do. The technology of instant communication demands an immediate response to texts and emails. Many employees have to sort through hundreds of messages a day.

Companies are quick to give their workers smartphones so they can respond to work requests 24 hours a day. The business environment changes in nanoseconds, not hours or days. This is the status quo of this new century. It fosters a flurry of constant motion for all of us.

But do “crazy busy” adults actually accomplish more? Are they more productive? Or do they just appear to be more effective than their less harried counterparts? This month, I am living in Barcelona, Spain, working on a book. Most stores and businesses shut down between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. for a long lunch and rest break. This is when many people eat their big meal of the day and take a “siesta.” It seems pretty civilized. But would it ever fly in the States? Probably not.

Recent studies show that a 20-to-40-minute nap improves performance among air traffic controllers and NBA basketball players. Eating a bigger meal in the middle of the day is healthier than eating one late at night. It’s ironic that many kindergartens and pre-schools have a “nap time” for children, because they are more alert and attentive after rest. But adults are expected to work 8 to 10 hours straight, with 15 minutes to gobble down lunch while working at their desks.

Human beings tend to naturally perform in cycles that balance periods of intense activity with intervals of rest. Regular breaks are an important part of sophisticated training programs for high-performance athletes. What about for the rest of us?

All too often we mistake ceaseless activity with higher performance. Sure, hard work is necessary and there is no shortage of tasks to accomplish. But it may be more effective to pace yourself, inter-mixing work with periods of rest and exercise. Is it necessary to instantly respond to emails and texts that come your way? Or is it preferable to take some time to smell the roses, take a walk during lunch, or exchange pleasantries with a co-worker?

In order to work “smarter” rather than “harder,” it takes discipline and self-confidence. Here are some tips:

Turn off your smart devices. Handle your email in discrete intervals during the day, and pace yourself throughout. Feeling compelled to answer texts and emails immediately creates stress. Take time to stand up from your desk, stretch, and walk around the office.

Make sure to take a lunch break every day — away from your desk. This takes discipline. We need to have confidence that by slowing down we can actually be more effective. And we have to worry less about how we appear to others, and consider more what makes us efficient.

Take time to connect with the people around you. When you come to work, make sure to say good morning to all of the people in your area. At the end of the day, remember to say goodbye. The small pleasantries of life are important to your well-being.

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld is Director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health and has been a clinical psychologist for more than 30 years. Read more of his blog at the Family Talk Blog at

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