The Shallow Pride Of Being Overwhelmed

I had a thought. Yeah, it happens every now and then. ๐Ÿ˜‰

See, the other day I was talking to somebody. This person was in the advertising business. This means she saw a lot of clients and was busy. VERY busy. We’re talking 15+ hour days. Sitting in the office until 2AM. Sometimes up and at it by 4AM.

Overwhelm. No time. Busy.

These days, people seem to wear the “overwhelm” badge with pride and I don’t know why.

I had a thought. Yeah, it happens every now and then. ๐Ÿ˜‰

See, the other day I was talking to somebody. This person was in the advertising business. This means she saw a lot of clients and was busy. VERY busy. We’re talking 15+ hour days. Sitting in the office until 2AM. Sometimes up and at it by 4AM.


Overwhelm. No time. Busy.

These days, people seem to wear the “overwhelm” badge with pride and I don’t know why.

We want to look really busy. Tell people we’re busy. Talk with pride about our long work hours and how we burned the midnight oil to get something done. We talk on our cell phones during the day in order to look important. Or worse, we wear the Bluetooth headset in our ears all day. The message we tell others? “I’m busy. I’m important. I don’t have time for you.” When somebody asks how we’re doing, we say “Busy!” without even thinking. It is a habit.

When did this become a badge of honor? Are we supposed to honor your sacrifice?

Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? If what I just said describes you, then you’ve got a problem. It means you’re grossly disorganized. It means you don’t have any systems set up to deal with inflow and outflow.ย It means you’ve mistaken rapid movement with accomplishing something. It means your life isn’t your’s anymore.

It means you have to stop working on stuff and instead work on yourself. It means you better get organized.

It goes for everybody, really. Including bloggers. See, one of the most common frustrations I hear from aspiring bloggers is that they don’t have time to blog. Regular life gets in the way. There is the J-O-B that takes up most of the day. Then nighttime is usually taken up with life’s logistics. If you carve a little personal time for yourself late at night, you sit down to blog only to get quickly overwhelmed. Hence, you make no forward progress.

Unfortunately, if you run your life in a state of overwhelm, you will unwittingly carry that overwhelm into everything else you do. Because you crave it, whether you’ll admit it or not. We like being busy. The problem is that many have mistaken being busy with getting things done.

The simple truth is that it is all a state of mind. Which fortunately means you can change it all by simply changing your mind.

The first step is to decide that overwhelm isn’t a sign of success, but a symptom of doing it wrong. Like, REALLY DECIDE THAT. I’m not kidding. ๐Ÿ™‚

Secondly, start to put in order. If you look at all the things you’re doing, it probably feels like a bunch of randomness going in every direction. The key here is to make it simple again. Simply do one thing at a time. Put order into one thing at a time. Then, it won’t seem like everything is moving at once and you can’t keep up.

For example, perhaps random incoming emails and calls are a huge source of confusion for you and you don’t really like it. Well, put some control in on it. Declare email bankruptcy if you have to. Turn off your phone’s ringer and change your voice mail greeting to tell them the two times a day you will check messages. Make people wait if you must! The world will get along just fine. People won’t complain as long as they see results.

Perhaps, if you really look at it, you see that you spend too much time reading other people’s blogs and not enough working on your own. Perhaps you see that every time you read somebody else’s blog, you get distracted and pulled in yet another direction. Perhaps after a week of this mental vibration, you look back and realize you didn’t accomplish anything at all. So, put some discipline in on yourself and limit your reading time. Check out these 21 tips on managing your time.

It really comes down to just taking control again. It starts with changing your mind.

… Because moving really fast isn’t a badge of honor. The rat on the rat wheel does that, too, and we’re not putting him on a pedestal, are we? Last time I checked, that rat is in a cage. Pretty ironic, huh.


  1. I couldn't agree more – the phrase I hate is “buys is good”…I always want to scream – NO ITS NOT! It just means that, like you say, I haven't figured out how to do it efficiently or I'm working with someone who has not figured out how to do it efficiently. ugggh!

  2. haha right I have been there too. I have often finished translation assignments way ahead schedule and the boss would say wow, fast thanks. I am thinking idiot, and you coworkers need to get organized. haha thanks feels great!

  3. I think my former co-worker at the Pacific Daily News in Guam…..some of you just might know him…..Leo Babauta at ZENHABITS sums it up well with his tagline: Smile, Breathe, and Go Slowly.

    Yes I admit we all thought he was a little weird at the time…but he's obviously doing something right!

  4. You said it right. People really do get pride in telling that they have no time or they are busy. Planning is the key. thanks for the great post.

  5. That's funny, I was just talking about how I have a very bad habit of getting myself into overwhelming situations just by putting way to much on my plate.

  6. Why do machines run so efficently? (theoretically right… you should have seen my first car!)

    It's because machines are processes that do the same thing everytime. If we (or I) could WORK with the the dicipline and consistency of a machine, but still maintian the intellect and intuition of a human – anything is possible if we persist. right? : )

  7. I did! Spent the whole day working on that interview piece.. and still not
    done! lol But it was a killer productive day, so I'm pretty happy with it.
    Now off to duplicate it today. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Contact Me [image:
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    Latest on BGB Avoid a Freelance #Fail with Creativity, โ€œBread and Buttahโ€,
    and Rainbow Colored

    — @ WiseStamp
    Get it now<;

  8. I think it comes down that old saw about priorities. If it's important, you'll find a way to get it done. That goes for blogging. I've heard that for years from other writers. We pretty much do what we want to do. We carve out the time, map out strategies, plop the butt in the chair. Even when you're overwhelmed, if it's something you really want to do you find a way.

  9. Hi David, I totally get this from people I know too. Then they sneer at me and tell me that it's worth it because of job security or because they're rubbing shoulders with some corporate so-and-so. Shmucks.

  10. In previous generations, legends like Einstein moved the world while still having fun and not appearing overwhelmed. But, every 2 bit guy these days appear to show themselves busy. For all the time spent by these “execs” on their jobs what is their real impact on the world? Either they are extremely inefficient or working towards wrong direction.

  11. I can't tell you how often I run into this in my consulting practice. Not only do I hear it from clients dragging their feel with assignments I give them but with other professionals in a similar industry. I think it sometimes has to do with people trying to look more successful than they really. To them it might look like they aren't offering any value if they can't tell their friends and loved ones that they don't have enough time in the day. I'm all about honesty and transparency because you never know where your next clients are coming from. If I'm not busy I'm happy to share that – it doesn't take away from what I do. In fact it means that I get people results so they don't feel like their wasting their money when they write the checks to Financially Digital.

  12. Hey David.. perfect timing with this post. My week was off to a bit of an overwhelming start, due in large part to procrastination and not keeping my focus. Now I feel busy and overwhelmed, but it's a product of my own making! So thanks for the reminder, I'm off to actually WRITE and get stuff done, rather than get stuck in a busy, disorganized loop.


  13. Hi David,

    Your thoughts echo with mine. I hear and experience this attitude very often here in this part of the world. I met one person coming home at 5:30 PM and being apologetic for coming so early. I said blessed be your family who will like your presence, so early today!

    I quit working in ad agencies where everyone says they're busy – yet you don't find anything great happening… no big clientele or no ground breaking work. I saw the way they're hiding and rotting themselves behind those masks (this is my personal exp., and not general).

    Ever since, I started freelancing (almost for 2 yrs now), I detested people who never answer for smss or emails – acknowledging the copy received or sms me saying OK. Just two words. I didn't want him to write how good the work is or shower me a heap of praise.

    The other day, one client didn't respond to my mail for five days and text messages too; at last when I called him he says he was damn busy and couldn't mail me or text me OK. two letters.

    I thought… never to work with him again. It's some speculative work I agreed as he was promising some good chunk of work, I just told him it shows how you treat people; if you can't treat people well, you don't treat the work people do also in good esteem; so sorry I can't take it up.

    I am thinking this attitude is prevalent in this part of the world, but really surprised to hear in Corporate America too.

    I always feel we shouldn't add up to this menace. Each time we say 'I'm busy' (when it's not) we are sending a frantic wave of frustration down the aisle. If it really matters.. fine. Sometimes, when we are in emergency… it's natural to say, 'we are rushing'. Other times, let's avoid it. By saying it more often we are vitiating the environment or the PRESENT of its gifts of warmth, love and affection IT brings

    Having said, all this… and I'm really guilty not doing anything, except reading other's blogs and couldn't accomplish much. I really needed this kick in my rear and thank you for this one :-).

    I never knew your blog is so good; and ptchch yours' also to be included in the must browse list. Taking yet little more time …. just kidding :)). Many thanks for this wonderful BLOG !!!

  14. Thank you for this post. You basically summed up a huge portion of my life. I work as a reporter in Europe – a dream job in a great city (Paris) – but have been feeling really “overwhelmed” since, oh, 2006. I realized last year that it had nothing to do with my workload, whuich I was blaming, but how I (dis)organized my professional and private life by spreading myself too thin then freaking out. I can only blame myself.

    Being busy all the time is not a good look (like those Bluetooth earpieces that some people wear even at the beach) and it was never my intention. On the contrary, I wanted to be available for my friends and family and that's where my realization that something was wrong with my organizational skills kicked in.

    So I decided to take a sabbatical this year and returned to L.A. to “get real.” I have no cell phone here (absolute joy! Plus, no one complaints anymore that I use it as an answering machine!), no pressing deadlines and I'm doing only ONE thing at a time: things that I've been putting off for ages (like being available to see friends). Some are menial tasks, but that's OK; I'm getting them done and over with and it feels good.

    Also, one of the worst symptoms – or perhaps causes – of disorganization is MULTITASKING. It's another badge that people – usually overwhelmed people – wear with pride but it's hugely destructive, trust me. And you actually get only half a task done by the end of the day. So all of that energy and hard work is in vain.

    I have to report back to work this winter and I'm positive that I have been cured from this self-sabotage.

    And I promise to no longer use my cell phone as an answering machine since I'll actually have the time to answer calls.

  15. Help! I'm being overwhelmed with jobs, tasks, routines, family, bills, a girlfriend and my Lamborgini! Just kidding… I'm pretty much in control over my time management (at the moment). And no, I don't have a Lambo but I do have other stuff to handle and I do it all in control.

    My big advice, is to be efficient. By book definition, efficient means doing things right. Another is to set aside a few hours and postpone the rest to some other time. Last advice is that if you can't do them all, you have your family and friends. Ask them to help you finish whatever it is and finish it quickly. So that you can have plenty of time on your hands handling your blog. At least, that's how I keep myself from being overwhelmed. Nice review post, David. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. I hear you! It DOES seem to be a badge of honor for some people, like it's “cool to be busy”. It makes them feel important. It DOES seem to be a sign of our time and culture as someone mentioned ealier.

    Sometimes the people who TALK about how busy they are, are the ones who are just trying to LOOK busy. They need to stop the “talk” and actually DO something!

  17. Yes I hate that word “busy” it is very annoying. Years ago I was getting ready to start a job and discussing the details with former employees. One person gave me an email of a person who was working at the time and warned me in the tone of voice that you can imagine – dark, “he's really busy”. I thought nothing about it at the time. I sent him an email to introduce myself and never received a reply. I started my job and was at it for 3 years and I have to say I never missed an email from a friend, family member, or a stranger wanting an answer for something. I thing back to that person and think “busy?” ya right, you idiot are just plain not organized. I was doing the same job and I still had the time to answer all emails even from strangers!
    I think it is some kind of pride of being “busy”, and as you said it “I have no time for you” attitude. years later I was working for another job at a university doing translation and the manager would ofter say how quick and accurate I am with translations, never commenting I always thought could it be that I am organized and know how to prioritize my time? I noticed other employees slaving away at over time and I would be the first one out the door at 5:30pm. I often thought overtime is a waste of time for people to make themselves look “busy” for the boss and other people – makes them look important and say I have no time for you so “bugger off” haha. Actually there is a very good Japanese movie sequential about this and how one employee never did overtime and thought it was a waste of time.
    And yes it all comes down to not being organized. Actually I never consider myself as a very organized person but when it comes to work I guess I am but still never admit it. haha.
    Well it's time for me to get back to work and stop reading and commenting on Dave's blog – it's a wasting my time —- haha just teasing!

  18. Right on David! This is exactly what's wrong with corp america and the reason why I can't stand it. I can literally do my job in half the time (or more some weeks) but I am forced to sit for 40hrs a week. It drives me bananas, especially when a co-worker who does the same job as me says how swamped they are! It's a lack of organization, discipline and FOCUS. Gosh that felt good! Thanks!

  19. David
    That's a sweet post. Anybody who gets offended by it is in denial. I think we all suffer from it and I think the key is recognizing it quickly and switching to “what am I really accomplishing” mode. If you periodically ask yourself, “am I really getting something done toward the accomplishment of my main goal(s)?”, then you can change direction quickly.

    I like the kid pics-speak of the devil, they grow up FAST! Smell them roses baby!


  20. Point well taken David ๐Ÿ™‚ I can see how site owners (including myself) can get caught in that “trap”. Thank goodness I at the very least LOVE what I do, but NO, I don't want it to be all that defines me. Thanks again!

  21. This reminds me of people that seem to take great pleasure in telling you how stressed they are.

    When clients tell me that I ask them how frightened they are about their life. They usual respond, not very. Then I point out that stress is fear, there is no situation where you can't interchange the two words when you're talking about an emotion, and that announcing to the world you're stressed senseless is no different to saying you are scared s***less.

    It kinda changes their relationship with stress and makes them realize that its maybe not as acceptable as they had previously thought.

  22. One time I was running on my treadmill and I had my 1 year old puppy Zoe lying on the ground beside the treadmill watching me.

    Just imagine what she was thinking to herself – “What in the world is my Daddy doing? Doesn't he see that he's not getting anywhere on this thing?!” – LOL. ๐Ÿ™‚

    It didn't look like she understood that I wasn't trying to get anywhere, but rather to just run for the purpose of running.



  23. Good point. Some people do enjoy just moving fast and being on the go all the time. That's cool. I enjoy it at times myself.

    If it is viewed as a game, it stays healthy. But, games have the purpose of winning or accomplishing something. As long as that vision isn't lost, by all means. ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. You're right. I'm not saying success doesn't come through hard work. This post was more addressed at the thoughtless busyness we sometimes let our life become.

  25. You're right, but the problem is we sometimes let it become a trap. Like we've replaced one job with another one. It is important to keep things in perspective. Realize WHY we started blogging in the first place…. and it probably wasn't so that you become a slave to incoming communications.

  26. I'm ignoring those folks who would rather rot on the couch. I only write for people who actually have goals. And among this crowd, my point is that “busy” and “accomplishing things” aren't necessarily one and the same.

  27. Great post, a long time ago I used to be like this as well. I used to carry my cell-phone glued to my ear and always got complaints that I was always on the phone.

    Today, I'm the exact opposite of that and the biggest complaint I get is that I never pickup my phone. ๐Ÿ™‚

    You're absolutely right, business doesn't equal success any more than hard work equals success.

    However, one thing I'd add to the conversation is that everyone has a different set of values that give meaning to different things. For some people being busy and on the phone all the time is a status symbol no different than driving a BMW or a Porsche or a Ferrari. It is a way of feeling important in the world.

    “Playing busy” in the business world is a fun game to play for some, but personally I got bored of it rather quickly after a few years of working my arse off.

    However, for others, if they enjoy “playing busy” then that's their choice. Just as it is a choice for some people to live in a 2 bedroom apartment in some high-rise in the city, because they crave the 'hearbeat' of downtown while I prefer to live on a quiet 5-acre property, surrounded by beautiful trees, peace and solitude. I think it's awesome that some people prefer living in a concrete apartment though because if everyone lived on acreage then the prices would have been way higher when I bought.

    So in a way, I say let the busy bees be busy if that's what they want. It's a lifestyle choice.

    But, I too agree that it's not something that I'd choose for myself or something I'd consider something to be proud of. ๐Ÿ™‚


  28. When you're right you're right. I believe it's a reflection of upside-down priorities in our culture in general. When we make external things our God we are essentially Godless.

  29. No bragging about overwhelm here. I'd give up my “overwhelm badge” in a minute. Unfortunately, that wouldn't change the things that make for the overwhelm. (Geez, now I'm overwhelmed AND talking in riddles.) Now where did I put that blood pressure med? ๐Ÿ™‚

  30. I had to laugh… I'm sitting here wondering which direction to turn next (so of course I stop to read your post-hmm- you hit the nail on the head there)… so I'm reading and nodding my head, yes, one step at a time, less time on other people's blogs, more time doing what I need to do and then I come to Check out these 21 tips… Laughed right out loud… so the message is- get your rear in gear… right after you read this next thing!
    Thanks (1) for the giggle, and (2) for the reminder that life doesn't HAVE to be so hectic!

  31. I respect a blogger who will smack you upside of the head when you really need it. It's not a pretty sight, everyone rushing around like the Borg with wireless devices stuck to our heads, too busy to do one thing at a time. And it's not helping us get to a better existence much, folks.

  32. I disagree that 'busy' is a negative thing. The alternative that I see everyday is mindless numb 'dependent' people are on there Xbox, sitting on the front porch smoking a cig watching the world go by or just simply whining how life has passed them by. I'd rather be 'busy' any day. I do agree that priorities need to be made and I think that is your over all point.

  33. Um, yes!!

    One thing I've always disliked about “busy” is that it feels like the other person is telling you that their time is more important than yours is. How nice is that, really?

    I try very hard not to use it unless I need some sort of explanation for why I am unable to do something in a specific amount of time (like take on new projects) mainly just because it's easier than getting into specific details.

    As a badge of honor though? Ick.

  34. I think we all need reminding that if we are too busy we are getting to badly wrong, I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday about Outsourcing and asked her how much work she had to catch up on, it ran into weeks

    Like many here I'm on the road to reform but your timely kick tells us to step back and think again

  35. Hi David,

    You you said is half false, half true…

    – Half false :
    As a freelance you have to do all by yourself, your life and your business and there is no way to hide or say your boss you are ill… So the more you work, the more you get paid !
    And nowadays it is harder to make money (more competitors, and GOOD ONES !), more times to market your product for the same impact…
    So you have to work BETTER…. But BETTER IS NOT MORE ;D

    So this lead to half true :
    If you concentrate on few thinks :
    – Automate tasks that take time
    – Stop doing things that are not important (or take less time)

    And more important do :
    – things that make money (at least 1 per 2h) : tweet, affiliation, create product…
    – use technology to work instead of wating time (with iphone…)

  36. Well yes and no. I do believe that being 'busy' is meaningless and not something to brag about if it's not moving your business forward. But I also think that being busy is part of the process, paying your dues if you will, especially in the beginning.

    And what I've noticed is that the busier my site gets the busier I get! There are more comments to respond to, more emails, more people on social networking sites to “socialize” with, more projects you've taken on, more clients…you get the idea. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Is it manageable? I guess at the moment, but it does become overwhelming, even when I schedule things in. Unfortunately, you can't factor in putting out fires, such as your site going down, or others issues outside of your control.

    I suppose outsourcing would be a good option, but for entrepreneurs such as myself, there's either a need to get it down right ourselves, or training and paying others to do for you is not an practical option at this time. But hopefully very soon…:-)

    Thanks for the post David…I always enjoy your point of view. =)

  37. Like the rat on the wheel there are so many “busy” people going round in circles and getting nowhere. David's telling it like it is rather than dumbing it down. Organise, prioritise, execute tasks individually in a sequence: it goes back to an earlier post I read, I think it was on this blog, about the deficiencies of multitasking, and how dividing attention into more than one area at a time can cause vital aspects of the matter(s) at hand to become overlooked. – Resulting in more work when the task has to be executed again… More work.

    Busy busy busy, like a bee… Imagine if a bee tried to collect pollen from multiple flowers at the same time. – Overwhelm could really become a buzz word in such a case. ๐Ÿ˜€

  38. I agree – although – at the same time – i realized I took myself away from the ONE thing I should be working on to read this email. So Kudos to you David for distracting me – and shame on you at the same time, for writing such a compelling header ๐Ÿ™‚

    Good article!

  39. Thanks for putting into words the “check” I've had to put on myself lately…a lot going on, but only a little actually getting TRULY done! Thanks!

  40. Well, to each his own, I guess. I, for example, feel really good when I work a lot, I feel I am doing something, accomplishing something, I feel driven. I look at those around me who wonder why the hell I'm trying so hard to be busy and laugh (not out loud, though :-), because I used to be like them and always felt like I was missing something.

    And I'm always trying to be as effective as possible, trying to work smart not hard. But, of course, I have my rest time, as it's very important (without it I think I' go nuts :-).

    And when I relax at the end of each week, I think “Whoa, great week I had there, huh?” and feel like I really did something and that it really got me closer to my end goals. So, that's my thought on this, and I'm sure a lot of other people think the same ๐Ÿ™‚

  41. I couldn't agree more…I feel like you called me out directly. Darn it. It's true though I'm so “busy” with work, life, the kids that I never have time to work on blogs or the 4,000 ideas that run through my head of ways to make more money online. Then I get so overwhelmed with the 14 projects I'm trying to simultaneously tackle that I can't just concentrate on 1 and finish it. Speaking of which, my email ADD popped up so here I am replying after reading this post, then I got off track, back to work. Good food for thought!

  42. David. sometimes you can be overwhelmed by circumstances beyond your control. My wife and I work on our business and she is currently in hospital cannot work and I am overwhelmed just looking after her and getting e-mails done.

  43. David,

    I think this is a good point bloggers and non-bloggers alike fail to realize. Being busy doesn't mean you're productive, and working long hours doesn't mean you'll earn money. Work smarter, not harder.

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