Admit it! You’ve lost the plot.

“It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.”

Businessman multitaskingWell said, Tim Kreider in the New York Times online (June 2012, I’m right on the pace as ever….).  Tim laments the madness of the world too many of us inhabit.  I so agree with him, and increasingly find myself looking at many of my fellow humans as a kind of spectator.  At one level I’m not keeping up (certainly my life doesn’t look as manic and rammed as others’), and maybe at another I’m getting wise (or is it just lazy – I sometimes wonder!).  Tim makes a fabulous point which I think is central to what used to be called Time Management (and what I call Working Smart):

“The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.”

Like Tim, I was a latchkey kid, and had several hours of unsupervised and unstructured time every afternoon after school before my parents came home from work.  It was time to chase rabbits in the hedgerows, to swap Beano comics with friends, lie in the fields and see what faces we could see in the clouds and mime along to the latest Beatles release.  Parents who left their children to their own devices in this way today would be on Social Services‘ “wanted list” in today’s society, and yet I would argue it allowed me to explore life in a creative and meaningful way which was crucial to my outlook later in life.

I wonder whether busyness is a form of insecurity.  Is it an attempt to appear important?  One thing I have noticed in people who have impressed me is that they make choices:  they decide what is important at any one time, and stick with that decision.  They are present:  if they’re talking to you, they are focussed, they are listening, not watching their iphone for the next email.  They do one thing at a time, and do it well.  How good are you at this?

I work closely with an American owned organisation where their ability to execute what they call “the diving catch” is an honoured cultural norm.  They work at the speed of light (in many cases when they should be going at snail’s pace, for instance when listening to customers), and, being a global organisation in the fullest sense of the word, many of their employees are “at work” around the clock.  Encouraging more idleness here would be like asking them to write with the wrong hand.  Very hard to go against the flow when such a strong culture is embedded.

Have you noticed how dysfunctional you are?  I’ve taken up people watching in pubs and restaurants, looking at what the dreaded handheld device is doing to relationships.  I recently saw 4 people walk into a pub, clearly good mates out for a get together.  They sat down with their drinks, and within 5 minutes all 4 were on their device at the same time.

Hände mit Handys im RestaurantIn Houston last year, two girl friends meeting up for dinner, sitting outside in the evening sunshine.  They shared a pizza, and when they’d finished it I saw both staring at their devices for a good 5 minutes in total silence.  So they have both concluded that checking Facebook updates of their overly extended Friends network was more important than talking to each other.  How barking mad is that, not to say downright rude?

As Kreider says, Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.”  I couldn’t agree more.  This year I have set myself a goal of not doing any more work than I need to, as measured by billable days.  Instead of chasing anything that moves, I am aiming to be on the road no more than I need to, allowing me to explore other ventures and initiatives which might be equally, if not more, rewarding.  I can already see the fruits of this, and we’re only in week 5!

This week let me invite you to consider whether some aspects of your busy schedule are in fact self imposed, and whether a rethink is in order.  If you are feeling out of control, burnt out, or questioning what the point of all this activity really is, maybe some idleness needs to be injected.

Have a read of Kreider’s article, because I think he really nails it.  It’s such an important topic (although not an Urgent read, so you will need to plan in some “idleness” in order to get round to reading it!).

© alphaspirit –

© Robert Kneschke –

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at
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12 Responses to Admit it! You’ve lost the plot.

  1. Dalene says:

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  2. Laura says:

    This is such a valuable topic to explore. I realise that personality differences determine to an extent the amount of busyness we crave – however it does seem that busyness is often rated over integrity, deeper exploration of issues and understanding of the impact of our decisions and actions. I am definitely more comfortable with thinking than doing at times – I had a great boss early in my career who encouraged me to write “Think” and “Read” in my diary so that I valued it as much as “real work” – takes courage sometimes to value these activities when others don’t or are too scared to! And real downtime is fantastic, as we all know – I’m just back from a walk along the beach. Didn’t take my phone or any money – just me.


    • Laura, I so agree with you. People don’t value thinking as much as doing. Which is why so many of us are burnt out and short of new ideas. People like you need to have space to be your best (you’re not an Introvert by any chance, are you?), and people like your previous boss need to be given an medal for recognising it and encouraging you to play to your strengths.


  3. christinapd says:

    Absolutely on the money Michael. I struggle with the pressures of “busyness” constantly, and as for using my phone in company, because of my social media input, I’m often the guilty party, and I know it has to stop! I would also counter though, not to make occassional bursts of “busyness” and a quick glance at the phone another cosh to bash oneself with, because I think we probably do enough of that anyway 🙂


    • Agreed Christina! We do enjoy beating ourselves up, and arguably today’s “device addiction” was no worse than manic consumerism in the 80’s or pot smoking in the 60’s. We’re never happy unless we have something to beat ourselves up with! Isn’t that a source of energy for change, in a weird sort of way? (Said he with a very positive thinking hat on).


  4. Spencer says:

    research from Uni of Utah recently showed that people who rated themselves most highly for “multi-tasking” were no more efficient across a series of tests, and usually worse. However, from a personality trait point of view, were more likely to be “impulsive, easily distracted and have an inflated sense of their own ability”. Paradoxically the 25% people that performed best in the tests were the least likely to attempt multi tasking in real life (presumably because they have a grip?)

    I see these folks a lot in airports, marching round, talking too loud on the phone, twitching away on screens (whilst all the while surreptitiously checking their audience). It is the people enjoying a quiet read who I’d more likely employ or invite out for dinner.

    Can’t help noticing the irony of an ad to receive email updates on Bill C’s activities at the end of the article – more mobile distraction for us!?

    Thanks as always Mike


    • Thanks Spencer for more research to support the cause! And as for those noisy ones in airports….I particularly hate the ones who feel a need to carry on the conversation once they have boarded, and can then do the ‘must go now, I’m off to New York’ to their admiring caller. And then like to burn off a day’s email whilst in the queue to get through Homeland Security!

      You Bill Clinton ad was based on your personal googling tendencies, don’t forget – don’t blame me!


  5. Francesca Nardocci says:

    I love the topic you have written for us this week, dear Michael, as it is one which is very closed to my heart lately. Our society is getting more and more handicapped due to the lack of some good, old fashion communication principles and the fact that we think, that if we are not doing 3 things at the same time – there is something fundamentally wrong with us – or worst, we could be deemed “lazy”.

    My 4 year old daughter is teaching me the brilliance of “mono-tasking” and “old fashioned” communication again!

    Your story about how you were allowed some “non-doing time” resonates so much, because it is exactly the “non-doing” that can make space in our heads and hearts to let new things in – or digest what things have come our way in a single day. This should not be underestimated!

    Since practicing MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Relieve) I am convinced, that a daily amount of “non-doing” is a MUST if you want to stay sane and it is exactly “non-doing” that can actually lead to a higher productivity than doing 3 things at the time. I have tried it – and it worked! One regains so much more control by doing less, by being selective what one does and by really dedicating oneselfs, to one task….
    “Non-doing” can take many different forms, it doesn’t matter if one mediates, or looks at the clouds. The important thing is to “be present” – now, – in this moment – and not all over the shop.
    Mono-tasking is key to remain in “the present moment” – in order to really dedicate oneself to one single activity – to put ones heart and soul into whatever this one activity is. So yes, in my experience the most brilliant and sane professionals are those, that have mastered the art of “mono-tasking”, of prioritizing, of talking to people personally (!) and of really dedicating themselves to a single task – at a particular time. Because their output has so much more quality, exactly becaue time was dedicated towards it.

    As always, Michael, very inspirational article.



    • Ah, Francesca, the joy of a 4 year old. So great at showing us what is important, and reminding us of how to communicate. Beware the temptation to keep her too busy! Thanks as always for your passion and insight.

      By the way, if women are so good at multitasking, does that mean men are better at mono tasking? Or are they just bad at multi tasking?


  6. Koenraad Vandommele says:

    Love it , fully agree, I claim the right and luxury for ” doing nothing time” and the right to get bored. Often great idea’s and things see the light during that idle period. Today indeed if you don’t have a fully packed agenda people think there must be something wrong with you. At least I started 2013 with some idleness and the smartphone went out. You would be surprised how non-urgent things become if people actually need to call me and convince me why I should spend valuable time on an issue. Thanks for the post


    • Koenraad, I love how you turned your smartphone death into an opportunity. Enforced idleness can be a bonus as well! I lost Broadband for a couple of days last year, and got some serious creative stuff done! Thanks for sharing.


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