Being Busy Makes You Stupid

Posted 09.19.2011

Being busy makes you stupid. And when I say, “you”, I mean me. Heck, I’ll just say it out loud. Being busy makes me stupid.

I realized this in a conversation with my wife on Friday night. We were out for a long, relaxed “just the two of us” dinner. Of course, we had scheduled that months in advance because of our calendars. Anyway, there we were, relaxed and focused on the conversation. She’s starting a new business and was telling me about her plans and what she has already accomplished. I was blown away. One reason for that was because she’s got a totally awesome plan and is executing it with precision. The other reason is because, until that moment, I wasn’t aware of about 80% of what she’d been up to in the past month.

I know that makes me sound like a jerk. Maybe I am.

I prefer to think that the problem is that I’ve been so heads down with busyness these past few months that I have become temporarily stupid.  I’m realizing that I’m missing things I would not normally miss. It reminds me of some of the research I’ve read on distracted driving and the effects of multi-tasking on performance.  According to a list of research based facts on, brain power decreases by 40% when a driver simultaneously engages in a conversation or listens to music. Talking on a phone while driving is equivalent to driving with a .08 blood alcohol level. As reported in a fantastic series of articles in the New York Times last year, researchers at Stanford have demonstrated that multi-taskers are less effective problem solvers than those who focus on one task at a time.

As I’ve written here before, my own research with high potential leaders shows that two of the behaviors that they and their colleagues rate themselves the lowest on are pacing themselves by building in regular breaks from work and regularly taking time to step back to define or redefine what needs to be done. The problem with writing a book that encourages people to pick up regular renewal of your energy and perspective and let go of running flat out until you crash is that sometimes you have to eat your own dog food. Fortunately, it actually tastes pretty good.  It’s also nice to know I’m not alone.

It’s so easy to get sucked into the vortex of busyness induced stupidity. So, what can all of us super busy people do to pull ourselves back from the brink? Here are a few things that have worked for me in the past that I’m going to get back to:

  • At least half a day a week of “chill time” – no e-mail, texts, commitments, appointments or anything else that I have to do.  It gives my brain time to reset.
  • Starting most mornings with 10 minutes of sitting with my eyes closed and focusing on my breathing.  That’s also known as meditation but if that freaks you out, you can just call it breathing time.
  • Weekly Wednesday date nights with my wife. Nothing fancy necessarily – just an hour or so out of the house to unplug, talk and connect.

Those three plus showing up regularly for yoga class constitute my basic plan for being less stupid. What other suggestions do you have? (Please, be gentle.) What’s worked or working for you?