There has been a lot of critique about the busy lives we lead. Ever connected. Always multi-tasking. And it looks like the busier we are, the less productive we get. But, don’t be hard on yourself, if you relate to being busy. There’s a silver lining here.

Recent studies show that the perception of oneself as a busy person can actually increase people’s self-control. Being busy boosts our self-esteem, and enhances our sense of self. As a result, we feel good about ourselves, and this reduces our engagement with unhealthy or indulgent behavior. For example, choosing fruit over cake, saving money over shopping, biting our tongue before blurting a rude remark to a colleague. Desirable, right?

Why is it important?

Self-control might sound like a quality that is boring and restrictive. But, that is exactly why such research is exciting. Knowing that self-control can be an outcome of busyness, is an antidote to the overwhelm and lack of focus that comes with being busy. Studies show that an ability to delay instant gratification and impulsive behavior, is highly correlated to different kinds of success in life – financial, marital, etc.

What does such self-control mean for the workplace?

  • Less procrastination. Being busy means having a lot to do. But, if you are strategic with it, you can be productive too. Use your self-control to tackle the biggest tasks first, instead of putting them off. They are less likely to get done later. As Mark Twain said, “if it’s your job to eat a frog, do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, eat the biggest one first.”
  • More effective leadership. Leaders with higher levels of self-control are more likely to inspire and intellectually challenge their followers, instead of micromanaging. This, because they encourage their teams to manage their own work, and model decision-making that is not driven by instant gratification. For example, helping colleagues out, or volunteering for a cause.
  • Better ethical behavior. Nurses with more self-control are less likely to be rude to patients, tax accountants are less likely to engage in fraud, and employees, in general, avoid various forms of unethical behavior, such as lying to their supervisors, stealing office supplies, and so on. In essence, you have high chances of being a better, more engaged employee.

So, be busy. Have a full schedule. But don’t lose sight of what matters most to you. The wisdom lies in balancing a full schedule with some leisure to replenish yourself. Otherwise, the good feelings might vanish soon.

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