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The Surprising Connection Between Being Busy and Being Healthy

Do you believe the stereotype of busy professionals grabbing fast food burgers and letting their treadmills collect dust while they’re rushing from one meeting to the next? In reality, a growing body of research shows that being “busy” helps you to make healthier choices. It may be time to retire that old stereotype.

To be more in depth, thinking you’re busy seems to increase your sense of self-importance, as well as your self-control. That’s the conclusion from several recent studies of university students at a global business school.

After writing an essay about how much they had to do, individuals in the study showed they were more likely to opt for apples over brownies and extra credit over a day off.

There are at least two exceptions to the findings. Feeling pressed for time undermined self-control and made the students more likely to indulge themselves. Also, being busy had less effect on students who were described as having a low work ethic.  So if you have deeply formed habits and traits around procrastination or poor time management and not producing high-quality work due to lack of care or self-discipline, then you are less likely to see the benefits of being busy.

If you’re trying to live healthier, cultivating a busy mindset may help. But what does a busy mindset mean? Most people think they are productive when they are “busy” and this is actually NOT true. To me, a busy mindset means you are fully engaged, fully present with what you are doing. You are actually picky about the actions you do engage in and they are intentional. When you are fully engaged and you have various action items to complete, you tend to also have an organized plate that can help you stay focused on your long-term wellbeing. You understand that if you are not healthy, you cannot accomplish anything on your list. So your well-being becomes a top priority.

Doing Meaningful Work

If you find your job fulfilling, being busy at the office may enhance your fitness as well as your finances. On the other hand, if you’re not fully engaged, you may need to change your thinking or rely on other activities to boost your self-esteem.

  1. Continue learning. Keeping your skills and knowledge up to date will give you the qualifications you need to work on challenging and interesting projects. Sign up for workplace trainings, off-site conferences and take certification courses online.

  2. Build community. Developing relationships with your colleagues adds to job satisfaction. Be generous with your time and assistance and attend office parties.  Go the extra mile to find the common bonds and similarities between you and your coworkers and other people that you see often.  That is the start to growing relationships that you can then nurture and value.

  3. Recognize your power. Regardless of your job description, you have the ability to make your job more gratifying. Find out about all of the opportunities for upwards mobility and all of the benefits and perks.  Learn as much as possible about your company and your industry. Think about the purpose behind your role and its tasks.

  4. Reshape your job. You may even be able to adjust your responsibilities. Volunteer for assignments that leverage your strengths and join committees that will make you more visible.

  5. Pursue your passions. Channel your time and efforts into activities that excite you, whether it’s during the work day or on your own time. Think less about money and more about doing what you love and making a difference. 

Dealing with Time Pressures

A long to do list will backfire if you feel like you lack the time to complete it. Learn how to manage your time so you can stay busy without becoming burnt out.

  1. Track your time. Figure out where you currently spend most of your hours. You can find free apps online like Clockify or Toggl or use a plain old paper journal.  You can even set timers through your Google search bar and figure out how long it takes you to complete different action items.

  2. Set priorities. Block out time for the activities that add the most value to your life. Limit distractions like watching TV and superficial phone conversations.

  3. Break things down. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, compartmentalize large projects into smaller steps. Work backwards from the final deadline so you can set reasonable targets that are realistic for you to meet.

  4. Work mindfully. You’ll accomplish more with less stress by tackling one thing at a time and focusing on that one thing. If you’re still distracted by other thoughts, write them down so you can return to them later and make sure that there is a set amount of time that you will allot.  For example, if it is noon and you are working on entering data for work and in the midst of the task you are burdened by the thought of making a shopping list, decide that at 2:00 PM, you will designate fifteen minutes to create your shopping list.

  5. Sleep well. To remain productive and healthy, resist any temptation to cut back on sleep. It is a myth that the most successful people are burning the midnight oil and working around the clock – you need sleep and it is not realistic to “grind nonstop.”  Go to bed early so you’ll be refreshed and ready for your next busy day.

A demanding job can actually be an asset when you’re trying to stay healthy. Use those busy feelings to reinforce your sense of self-esteem and encourage you to make choices that will keep you strong and fit.

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