Claire Madden

Claire Madden: Being busy is good for us.

It's not even 9am, but you're already gulping down your third latte as you hurriedly prepare for a morning of back-to-back meetings.

You're not sure how comparing email inboxes became a competitive sport. But in your world, being "crazy busy" is normal, in some cases even desirable.

In his book, Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much, Tony Crabbe says constant multitasking is having a negative impact on our productivity.

Instead of increasing our working hours, Crabbe says we should stop trying to get everything done. When we focus on the smaller tasks like getting to inbox zero, we ignore the bigger strategic work that will make a difference to our business or career.

It's hard to argue with his logic. But is everyone really as busy as they let on?

It's unlikely, says Professor Mark Wooden of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research. According to his data, the proportion of people working 50 or more hours a week has been declining since the early nineties.

However the blur between work and leisure is contributing to that sense of busyness, because you can still be fielding calls and emails while you're at a barbecue.

Social researcher Claire Madden says being busy is good for us if we're motivated and reaching our goals, less so if it's making us strung out and snappy.

“I think email has somehow created a virtue out of being busy and the idea that by being busy we're successful. But busyness is not a good indicator of success,” she says.

Our tendency to fill up every bit of spare time with technology is also contributing to a feeling of always being “on”, because it eats into time that could otherwise be used for reflection or relaxation.

“If we're waiting for a friend we don't just sit around, we're on our phones checking emails or playing Candy Crush,” says Madden.

Madden says we need to change the way we view technology, using it as a tool to help us reach our goals and objectives, rather than something we need to serve.

After all, your inbox will continue to ping with messages regardless of the late hours you work, and the constant flow of information from the internet is never-ending. A mind-boggling 100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute.

“We need time and space for creativity to flow . . . you have to lead your business from a strategic perspective,” says Madden.

If you're keen to become less busy, here are some practical steps you can take to give yourself space and boost your productivity.

1) Turn off email notifications

A simple but effective change, according to Crabbe, is to work on an important project first thing in the morning, before you check email and get into the busyness of the day.

Every time we are interrupted by an email alert it takes an average 16 minutes to get back to the task at hand, says psychologist Sabina Read, who advises checking email no more than three or four times a day.

“It takes willpower and you need to feel it's ok not to get back to someone within five minutes of them sending you an email. It doesn't mean you're not a good worker.”

2) Take a break

Everyone has commitments that are non-negotiable such as meetings and deadlines, but you also have time in your day that you can control, like your lunch break, says Read.

If you can't take a lunch break, at least get some exercise, she advises.

“A 20-minute walk around the block is a really helpful circuit breaker.”

3) Learn to live with doing less

Instead of jumping around from task to task, learn to live with the discomfort of not getting everything done, says Read.

“Ask yourself: What's the worst thing that can happen? And drill down until you get to the point where you can say, 'I can live with that, and my client will live with that.' ”

The consequences of constant busyness are enormous, says Read.

“We end up taking more time off work because relationships break down or we're sick. It doesn't actually serve us well (to be busy all the time).”