Busyness… The Ultimate Humble-Brag!

The term “Humble-Brag” meaning: ‘an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement with the actual intention of drawing attention to something of which one is proud’, has recently crept into social commentary on the world of business and executive leadership in particular.

A recent Harvard Business Review article, by Michael Blanding entitled “Having No Life is the New Aspirational Lifestyle”, caught our attention.  The article discusses the work of Anat Keinan, an Associate Professor in the Marketing Unit at Harvard Business School who looks at how marketers exploit the “Busyness” culture which has become so pervasive.

The article discusses the culture shift in our perception of power and prestige which has moved from associations with a leisurely, luxurious lifestyle to the opposite where a lack of leisure time is the real status symbol, and the article questions whether the busyness is worth it in the long-term.  “Keinan cites her own 2008 study that found that while people often felt guilty about taking time off for fun in the short term, in the long run they are more likely to regret missing out on indulging in leisure activities”. Her study concludes: “It’s the old adage that nobody on their death bed ever said they wished they spent more time in the office”. It begs the thought, where has this come from and what are we trying to prove to ourselves, or indeed to others? There is no doubt that our response to what Larissa Barber, a workplace psychologist at Northern Illinois University, calls ‘workplace telepressure’ – technology and globalisation which has enabled us to stay connected to work 24/7 and the associated pressure of immediate responsiveness, is a major contributing factor.  The challenge for us all is not to confuse action addiction with productivity… spinning wheels is easy (albeit tiring) but is it productive?

Inherently there is a recognition that the ‘always on’ culture of work is depleting if not managed effectively.  Today the inclusion of sessions on Mindfulness, Presence, Stress-Management etc. on Leadership Development and Executive Coaching programmes have become commonplace, supported by a myriad of publications on related topics. One of the books that we really like in this space is: “One Second Ahead – Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness” by Rasmus Hougaard.  He defines Mindfulness as ‘being our best selves and realising more of our potential in everyday life’.  He argues that people who are more focused, clear minded and kind make for better organisations, and better organisations make for a better world.  The book includes a very practical section on techniques that can help navigate the ‘busyness’ by increasing clarity and focus with regard to how we manage our e-mail traffic, prepare for meetings, set our goals and priorities etc.  One of the questions Rasmus Hougaard poses is: “Do we do things because they are important, or because we want to feel important?”

Is having no life what we really signed up for... or the legacy we want to leave the next generation? Perhaps ‘slowing down’ is the new ‘speeding up’! 

This is a subject we will come back to, in the meantime have a look at our Halloween blog on “the importance of taking breaks”.


HBR Feb. 2017:    “Having No Life is the New Aspirational Lifestyle”

Scientific American Mind September/October 2016  on the benefits of taking breaks

“One Second Ahead – Enhance your performance at work with Mindfulness” – Rasmus Hougaard