04. Wellness

Why You Always Feel Busy

September 30, 2016

In today’s modern world, everyone seems to be busy. There always seem to be more meetings, more incoming emails, more things to read, more ideas to follow-up on, etc. And now, with smartphones, you can even tackle tasks at home, on vacation, or even at the gym!

There seems to be an underlying social pressure to “do it all,” both at work, and at home. Naturally, this contributes to feeling overburdened and overwhelmed. As human beings, we have finite energy and abilities, so it’s impossible to get through an infinite amount. In addition, time never seems to be on our side.

What if time, however, is not our only scarce resource? What about our cognitive bandwidth? Busy people seem to be short on cognitive bandwidth. In other words, they are short on basic cognitive resources, such as working memory and executive control. This scarcity is an issue because we use these resources in nearly every activity. We use it to reason, focus, learn new ideas, make creative leaps and resist our immediate impulses.

Cognitive bandwidth is used to be an active participant in an important meeting, to be an attentive boss to a frustrating employee, and to be a supportive partner or parent. Being short on cognitive bandwidth may also be the real reason we feel busy all the time, even when we’re not. What happens is, when we feel busy, we tend to handle our to-do lists less well than if we didn’t feel so rushed.

In fact, you’re more likely to make poor time-management choices because your decision-making abilities become impaired. That’s why we sometimes take on commitments we can’t handle or prioritize trivial tasks over crucial ones. As a result, a vicious cycle forms: your feelings of busyness leave you even busier than ever before. What exacerbates matters is that this mindset can penetrate into your leisure time. For instance, even when you have an hour or two of free time to recuperate, you may feel guilty, and consequently think you should be using this time “productively” too.

busy at work in a cafe

The guilt may arise from our current attitudes towards busyness. In the past, the ultimate symbol of wealth, achievement and social superiority was the freedom not to work. Leisure, was the ultimate symbol. Now, busyness has become an indicator of high status. Worth seems to be measured by how much time you spend doing which is often displayed by long work hours, power lunch meetings, etc. If we take a step back, however, we can regain a sense of control and feel less busy. This starts with becoming better cognitive bandwidth managers.

How to Feel Less Overwhelmed

You should acknowledge that different tasks require more or less cognitive bandwidth. A project status meeting may be time-consuming but not bandwidth consuming. The final decision about who to let go, could be bandwidth consuming but not time-consuming. You should also recognize that certain tasks may weigh down on your bandwidth even when you are not working on them. An example might be taking on a new strategy to rebrand the company. Lastly, you should participate in activities that do not tax bandwidth, this could be watching a soccer game, a workout at the gym or loafing on the sofa. It’s important to make time for tasks that refresh your bandwidth.

Another option to feel less overwhelmed is to enhance your brain function to improve cognitive bandwidth. Certain technologies exist that are designed to improve standardized measures of executive function and working memory. NeuroTracker is an example of one of these technologies. Normally, with improved executive function and working memory, you should be able to stay on task, plan, analyze, problem solve and understand better. In addition, it could help you improve your overall attention, focus and concentration.

So, while your workload may appear infinite, at least now you know how you can feel less busy, particularly when you’re not!

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