Welcome to Thrive 9-5, a podcast all about how you can kick ass in the office and life without feeling exhausted or overwhelmed. Each week I'm sharing simple self-care strategies, mindset hacks, and time management tips, so you can get promoted without burning yourself out. My goal is to help you create success without sacrificing your soul or your sanity. I'm your host, Celeste Harrington.
Hey, Thrivers! How are you doing? Let me guess. You're going to say, "I'm so busy." And that's what we're talking about today, Performative Busyness. I am so fascinated by this topic right now. And I think I have been fascinated by it for a while now, to be honest. It just, kind of, makes me wonder when people are like, "I'm just so busy." It's very vague. And I honestly think it's because we always want to look busy. After all, in our world, busyness equals productivity, and productivity means you're worthy. And that's what I coach on, self-worth because people are constantly questioning their worth. Our current structure in the workforce or jobs or life is we aren't worthy unless we're producing something. That's what we are taught and that's not necessarily true. It's not true at all because your self-worth is completely dependent on the way you think about yourself so of course, you're going to feel worthless if you think that you're an unproductive person.
Don't you love how I just dive into these topics? I don't give you any preview of it. I just dive right in. I'm not here to waste your time, right? We all have limited time on this earth so let's get to the juicy parts quickly. That's why these podcasts are short, easy, and digestible. So you get all the goodness, quickly, so you can put it into action, quickly.
So back to busyness and self-worth. It's what it comes down to. So whenever you go around saying how busy you are, it's because you want to come off as worthy. You want people to think that you are a contributing member of society. That's it. I mean, if you were to go up to someone, or they were to come up to you, and they asked, How are you doing? You're like, "Oh, yeah, I'm doing great. I just got a message or came back from vacation, or I just took a nap." And usually, if you do say that, their responses are like, "oh, lucky you" or "must be nice." It's snide and not polite, and there's a lot of envy or jealousy. And it's because they are in the same boat. They are, quote-unquote, busy to try and come off as worthy. So fascinating. I think that this is deeply embedded in the work culture for a lot of reasons.
I'm reading this book, Deep Work by Cal Newport. He goes into this idea of Performative Busyness, you might call it something else. It's where you are always trying to seem busy to your peers, your colleagues, and your leadership because we think that being busy means that we're productive, and productivity is what we tie our worth to. And so whenever you think about the workplace, he dives really into things like instant messaging and email and open-concept workspaces, where people are easily distracted. And those things are really easy things to check off the list. Like, if someone sends you an email or sends you a Slack message, or IM, it's easy to respond and get a quick hit of (I have talked about this hormone all the time) dopamine to make you feel good, to make you seem busy and productive to your teammates, and your peers and your boss, because you're responsive, and you have all the answers, and you can react quickly, which is making you seem like you're a valuable person to the team. And then you use that as external validation, to validate yourself to make yourself feel good. So it's this cycle. And what's so fascinating is whenever you're doing this work, what Cal Newport says is shallow work. It's not deep work.
If you're easily distracted, you're not doing undistracted focus time, where you are solving the world's problems. Whenever you're doing that, you aren't focusing on solving the world's problems. And maybe that's not your job, but you're also not doing your job. And then you complain about how stressed out and how busy you are because you don't get anything fucking done. And I'm getting mad about this now because I teach a lot of calendaring and time management systems, and so many times you hear people saying, like, they're just so busy, and they can't get anything done. You're not that busy. You're just over there, like, farting around, text messaging, instant messaging, Slacking, and emailing. So, of course, you're not spending any time getting any of your core work done. If you look at your people's job descriptions, they're not there just to instant message and email people. You were hired to do a specific job. You were hired based on the value that you're contributing to that task, and therefore the company. That is why you were hired.
It always blows my mind when I'm telling clients, friends of mine, and even my partner, "yeah, turn your phone to do not disturb. Turn your slack on Do Not Disturb. Don't be in your inbox all damn day, or else you're not going to get anything done. I just got off a meeting where I was like, "Yeah, don't slack me. My slack is always set to inactive because I do not answer slack. That is not the way to get a hold of me." And he was like, "Good for you." It's like, "Yeah. I'm glad. Thank you. That is good for me. You should try it because people complain all the time about the dinging and the pinging. And because it's distracting you from your core work, that's why you're not getting anything done." This is where people think, "Oh, well, how can I be available to my team, my manager. They need me." They need you to do your job. That's what they need you to do. And yes, email is part of your job.
There is another study within that Cal Newport book, Deep Work, about the number of time employees, spend emailing. So fascinating. It's millions of dollars. And it doesn't show that email is a terrible method. There's probably a lot of value that has gone on in those emails but he was talking about emailing and how we spend so much time in our inboxes pushing virtual paper around. Right? You have these dialogues that aren't that deep, and so when he's talking about deep work, it makes me think, how can I deepen my email responses because I'm guilty of this as well. Just work by hitting a response quickly and kind of bouncing emails back and forth, which is why everyone is a proponent for Slack or instant messaging, you can do that quicker in that format. And I get it. We're in a highly technologically advanced world where we're expected to keep up with technology and be able to respond quickly, but also, that response time is only a fraction of your value, if not part of your value at all. Your value isn't the quality of work that you produce. And so whenever you're sitting around thinking that you have to be busy, to be productive, to be valuable, you have a backward. Whenever you're busy pushing virtual paper around, sending instant messages every 10 seconds, you're not getting anything done.
So what is the solution? Well, according to Cal Newport, it's Deep Work. An undistracted time where you turn on Do Not Disturb. Some people aren't even on their computers, right? That doesn't apply to many people at this point. At this time, we're all on our computers to do work. But there are so many features out now I know Apple's doing a lot with Do Not Disturb and unique things like when you're in working time or home and who you want to contact you and who you can't. There's also a Do Not Disturb as a setting on your phone or computer. Turn it off, delete and minimize everything else on your screen and get to work. And this is, of course, all done in micro-steps. I would not expect you to go and do undistracted focused work for four-plus hours. Just not realistic, especially if that's not what you're used to. But if you can start with 30 minutes of focused work undistracted at a time per day, that's pretty amazing. That's a couple of hours, almost five hours, an entire workweek of doing that. Imagine how much you would get done if you had five hours of undistracted focused time. That's where you're contributing your real value.
And when it comes to thought work, when you to put a coaching spin on this, you have to have a serious mindset shift to do that, by thinking, "Hey, I'm going to contribute this 30 minutes of undistracted time right now to tackle this thing on my list to get ahead on this project or to do this task because it's going to continue attribute to my value, this is where my brain is being utilized, this is why I was hired." That is when you start to think about yourself as a valuable, really worthy contributor. Instead of thinking like, I have to be busy, and I have to, like, go talk to this person or be in this meeting or be available. That is not why you're there. You're not there to be available. You're there to do the work. And this is why people will get so detached from their work in the first place. Think about whenever you first get a job. You were excited. You applied for a reason because there's interest or inspiration, or aspiration. You were motivated because it's something that you're interested in, but then you start pushing around these virtual papers, instant messaging, emailing, and the surface level work that takes you away from the deep work that you were excited about in the first place.
So whenever you think about your brain, you're a contributing member of society to the work, think about your values and the work that you enjoy doing, how can you set yourself up for success to do that, to continue to contribute in a way that is valuable, not just for you, or for the company you're working for, for the world that you're living in. That is what makes you worthy.
Not the visible busyness. I think he talks about that, too. That's why we think we have to be available all the time because we need other people to see that we're busy. And that's why people have a hard time with what Carl was calling deep work. This is not necessarily visible work. Sitting down, nose to the grindstone, wherever you're, like, really focused and undistracted and unavailable, no one can see the work you're doing. What they can see is the outcome or the result of what you're creating. And that's pretty magical. And that is actually what you're rated on. When you think about performance reviews, or annual reviews or quarterly reviews, whatever it is the performance evaluations, you are judged on the outcome. You are judged on your performance. Even if you're an entrepreneur, you're judging yourself on the goals you meet, the clients you serve, on the results that you're creating. And you can't do that whenever you're trying to just be visibly busy. Whenever you're saying quote-unquote, "I'm so busy" you're not getting anything done.
So one of my surefire ways to start getting stuff done is, of course, to turn your phone on Do Not Disturb. Turn your computer to Do Not Disturb. If you aren't even ready to do that, then turn off all the notifications. In my teaching and the coaching that I do, you can't take any action unless your mindset is aligned with that action. So if you're thinking like, "Oh, I have to be available at all times" it's gonna be really hard for you to do that. So start questioning do you need to be available at all hours? If you do, I can't imagine you sleep very well. There's probably some time where you don't need to be available. Or you could think, "Actually, my boss probably wants me to focus on this" or not even thinking about your boss, "I want to focus on this. I'm making a difference. This is going to make a huge difference. I'm contributing so much to my environment and the world around me." Those are things that you can maybe start thinking. If that's too far-fetched, I know one of my mentors likes to start with it's possible. "It's possible that if I set aside 30 minutes of uninterrupted time, I will make a huge difference. It's possible that if I set aside uninterrupted time, I will be worthy. Or I may be worthy if I'm not available at all times. It is possible that my worth might increase if I'm not available at all times", which I can promise you it will.
So when you start thinking and believing that whatever you're contributing, regardless of your availability is valuable, you'll also start to think that you are valuable, because whenever you think that you are valuable, regardless of your emails and instant messaging capabilities, then you'll start to do the deep work, the focused work to produce the results that you were hired to do.
All right, I think that is enough for you to start thinking about your visible busyness or your secret success that you can create whenever you're focused on what you're creating and what you want to contribute. I will leave one more thing if you still don't believe me that this is the way of the world. It may feel like you're swimming upstream or doing something different than your peers who are visibly busy all the time. And you're going to do something different, but you're also going to create something incredible. And I'll remind you, whenever you are going through your performance review, your boss will never ask you how many emails you've sent. They'll also never ask how many hours are you available on instant messaging. Your work is very rarely ever valued on the amount of time you spend on it. So you get to decide how you spend your time. Do you want to be visibly busy all the time, where you don't get anything done, and you are trying to be performatively productive? And then you stress out that your to-do lists and never get checked off? Or do you want to have some uninterrupted work time where you can get things done because you want to those items off of your to-do lists if you didn't want to do them in the first place?
Alright, my friend, I'll talk to you next week.
Thanks for joining this week on Thrive 9-5. If this episode hit home for you, because I know it did, join Thrive Weekly, a newsletter for people just like you who are looking to do success differently. The link to subscribe is in the show notes below. You can also follow along on Instagram @Celeste__Harrington and as always, subscribe to the Thrive 9-5 podcast so you can stay up to date as new episodes drop each week. I'll talk to you next time.