Are You Too Busy to Succeed?


Busy has become the buzzword of the century. How have you been? Busy. What have you been up to? Been really busy. Would you like to have coffee? I'd love to, but I'm (too) busy. You get it. Looks a lot like the guy with 6 arms in the picture at the start of the article. Smug bastard. Smiling as if he isn't completely overworked. Being busy seems to have become the way to live your life. Not even because we want to, but because that seems to be the new norm. Beig busy indicates that we are needed on multiple projects. Without our effort and expertise they would simply collapse! And we are making sure we are involved in multiple projects, almost as if we are afraid that if we don't do enough, and aren't seen as involved and prestigious enough, we will never succeed. Yes, that's it. To be successful you must have done so many things. ALL the things. Work on different projects to expand our areas of expertise. Work with different people to expand our network. Have multiple projects on our cv's to make us more employable. More, more and more. We are becoming busier and busier. And we are also becoming increasingly tired, overworked and are running low on energy, time and fucks to give. Sound familiar yet? Now I have felt busy, or just completely overwhelmed if I'm being honest, for the past two weeks (I am writing this on 04/10/2019). I have been getting the Warwick Behavioural Insights team to get started up again in the beginning of this year and organising multiple events for it. My residency job has started up again as well, and of course I am also continuing to write here (it's an escape honestly). And of course my full-time job, the PhD, is also going full force. Having spent the past two weeks almost exclusively looking, writing and editing a grant application (serious stuff). As we were writing the grant application together, I told my supervisor about it all. He turned around and looked me dead in the eye. "The only thing that matters is that you get good work published, in good journals. It's fine you enjoy your other projects, but this is the only thing that matters." Well, if that's not enough to throw your motivation out of the window I don't know what is. Is he wrong? Hardly. We seem to think that the quantity of projects completed and listed on our CV will make us better competitors for a job, but we are forgetting one thing: we have to fit the main criteria, and we have to fit them well. Even better, rather than fitting well, we should excel. In academia this means to have published very good research in high-ranking journals. If your research isn't that great, or the journal submitted to isn't that great, it will reflect poorly on you. Even if you had several side-projects, there are likely to be people who fit, or excel, the criteria (good research, high-ranked journals) better than you do. As such, you won't get the job. This is still fact, yet it feels as if society is moving away from this and teaching us the opposite. I especially noticed this when talking to an undergraduate student who approached me with regard to joining the WBIT. He went on and on about his side-projects (there were too many), but after a while it came out he was barely passing his degree, struggling to stay above 60% (UK grading system). That should tell you all you need to know. Now I'm not slagging the kid. But he kept going on and on about making an impact. This to a lot of people has become synonymous with succeeding. Successful = impactful. But how are you planning on making an impact if you can't even divide your own time and resources between projects?! Now you're probably thinking that I am over-assuming things. Not everyone who does multiple things, necessarily does them poorly. But with limited resources (time, cognition) we can't give our best to each and every project. It's just not possible. Even when trying to spread ourselves equally, we will end up spreading ourselves thin. The more we pressure ourselves into this lifestyle, the more time and cognitive effort it is going to take to do these projects well. The time and effort we don't have. We become stressed, we sleep worse and as such perform even worse. This is a vicious cycle. This is the moment to re-evaluate and re-prioritise, and likely drop a project to get yourself back on track with the rest of it. If you don't, there are consequences to face. Sure, in the beginning you were high on motivation and energy. You were stressed but managing, likely on adrenalin (naturally produced by the body). But after a while adrenalin wears off. The body cannot sustain its production for a long period of time. If high performance and stress persist, the body moves to cortisol. And it's downhill from there. I have written articles about adrenalin and cortisol already, but in short: the longer you expose yourself to stress, the more physical and mental resources it will cost you, with the ever-increasing likelihood of obtaining a disease, mental breakdown, and eventually burn-out. Yikes. Before we burn out, let's get back to the actual question of this article. Are you too busy to succeed? We have looked at being busy, but maybe we should dive deeper into succeeding. I mentioned before the word success seems to have become very closely acquainted with that of impact. Neither is easy. "Over night" success-stories are often people (or organisations) that have been grafting and hustling for years. To become successful takes skill, practice, intelligence and experience of some sort, but most of all it takes dedication. It has to be done again and again and again. And done well. With nothing else on your mind but what you're doing. Nothing but what you're trying to excel at and succeed in. And that my friends, goes straight against the 600-projects-a-day race we are currently running. Because at the end of the day, success is much more like a marathon. I sometimes wonder myself if I'll have enough time. Other times I wonder whether I'll ever make enough of an impact. Or I'm wondering whether my work will be good enough for me to become a professor. Will I ever be successful? Etcetera, etcetera. I know that if I dedicate enough time to my work, write good research and publish highly, I can do this. But this requires me to be well-rested, focused and dedicated. It requires time.

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