Last week, I wrote about two positive types of busy, but this week I am reflecting on the kind of “busy” that can really lead to problems. How do you know that you or a colleague or friend are experiencing the wrong kind of busy?
Sometimes hardly distinguishable from the standard busy days, except perhaps by your level of motivation! It feels like you are trying to run through treacle and the work keeps flowing in but you can’t seem to push it back out. Nothing gets finished and set-backs are making everything seem worse, but you keep slogging away at the work in the certain knowledge that it will all work out in the long run. You… just… have… to… keep… going…
This sort of “slogging” is OK in the short term, but if it goes on for too long, then you might find yourself slipping into the next kind of busy. I am prepared to do this for a week or so, but not much more, because not only am I unhappy with it, but the quality of my work is frankly much lower. How do you get out of a slog? Well, I start saying no to even things that interest me, so that I can take a pause and reflect on my next steps. Delegation and collaboration are possible solutions here, because that the stuff that is de-motivating to me, is probably someone else’s dream work. I really have met people who like doing the accounts, and people who love indexing stuff… so let them! And postponing is another good tactic: ask for more time where you can.
Here, the work keeps flooding in and you just know that you’re in trouble. You can’t even organise your calendar properly and maybe miss the odd appointment because you weren’t looking at it at the right time. Or the appointment never made it into your calendar in the first place. Other people have to remind you about everything, and if they don’t remind you or put pressure on you, it doesn’t get done. You are curt with colleagues in emails and/or in conversation. You mis-understand things, and it feels like everything happens around you or without you. You don’t feel at all in control of how you spend your time, neither in the bigger picture nor in the details. You’re working every hour you can and yet there is always still more work to be done than you can conceive of.
You have long foregone hobbies and things that give you pleasure in order to work all the time and you don’t know when this will ever end. You can’t sleep at night because you are thinking of all the things you’re trying to do. You’re not ‘juggling’ so much as throwing all the balls into the air and waiting to see which ones hit you on the head first.
How do you recognise if you are drowning and that it’s OK to seek help – that it’s not OK to feel like this? Perhaps your guardian angel will help, giving you hints and the patient support that you will need. And a mentor, with practical solutions. Actually, this is a special situation: you’re probably going to need help from all sources.
If this last kind of busy is your daily reality, then please do something about it. Ask for help from a colleague or friend: ask for deadline extensions or dropped expectations from supervisors/bosses or even those who work for you. Give yourself a break and let go of as many commitments as possible, even if temporarily. Don’t let yourself go under, and make sure that you end up back in that inspirationally busy zone again…
[…] myself working into the evenings and over the weekends – what Jenny Delasalle calls “Drowning busy“. As the term progressed I began to feel the physical and mental effects of my over-ambition. […]
[…] this year, Jen wrote two great blogs on how to recognise if you were in a good busy space or a bad busy space. Academics are always busy and any post that tries to claim differently doesn’t understand the […]