Some Non-Obvious Reasons You Feel Busier Than Ever

I’m guessing you probably feel busier than ever.

Almost every leader I talk to does.

Dealing with an overwhelming, never-ending list of responsibilities was a problem long before the global disruption of 2020-2021. The disruption made it even more complicated and intense.

The pandemic introduced a strange paradox into our lives. As Adam Grant points out in this widely-circulated article, the pandemic gave us more time as the world shut down, but left us feeling overwhelmed, dealing with grief and this feeling he identifies as ‘languishing’.

Often I find if I can identify why I’m feeling a certain way, it can help alleviate the problem.

After all, it’s hard to solve a problem you don’t understand.

Naming a problem is the first step toward fixing it.

So, here’s the question: why do you feel so busy?

Here are some non-obvious reasons.

1.  The Crisis Destroyed Your Methods 

The first thing to die in a crisis is your methods. The mission continues, but the methods got destroyed.

  • You couldn’t open for in-person gatherings.
  • Suddenly you’re leading a remote team.
  • You’re not just a parent, you’re now a teacher.
  • Live events suddenly became a thing of the past.

And even as things reopen, it’s not the same. Live events are still wobbly. Some people are raring to go, others are more reticent.

Pre-pandemic, most of us had rhythms and methods that, while perhaps not ideal, gave us a sense of security and predictability.

Even if they weren’t perfect, you knew what to do.

The pandemic blew those methods up overnight.

The pain of the moment we’re in is that it’s not what it was and isn’t yet what it will be.

The in-between creates chaos that’s beyond your control.

2. Your Mind Doesn’t Really Turn Off Anymore

Adding to the chaos is that the future is still unknown and uncertain.

Of course, it’s always been that way (does anyone really know the future?). But in a more stable period, there was a predictability to life and leadership that’s just absent now.

The unknownness of tomorrow forces leaders into a state of constant mental chaos,  asking questions for which there are no clear answers and having to change plans regularly.

The mental load you carry as a result means it’s hard to turn off your brain or get away from the crisis.

Even if you’re not working as many hours as you were a year ago, your mind is always working. And when you’re mind is always working, you’re working.

3. Your Home And Pocket Are Also Your Office

The working from home shift disrupted the boundaries between work and life in a profound way.

But long before the pandemic, your home and pocket were increasingly becoming your office anyway.

You used to go to the office, but thanks to technology, the office goes to you.

Between your laptop, tablet, and phone, work follows you everywhere.

If you’re a knowledge worker, you know that your work is never really done anyway. When have you done enough customer service, team development, product improvement, pastoral care? Correct…never. These are all infinite games.

So your work is never really done.

Add to that the fact that you can now do your work anywhere and you have a toxic cocktail indeed.

The ability to work from anywhere at any time leaves a lot of people feeling like they’re never really on and never really off. You’re taking breaks mid-day to make lunch for the kids or sweep the floor, and answering email at 10 p.m.

No wonder you feel like you’re never done, because you aren’t.

4. Inbound Messages Are At An All-Time High

I’m old enough to remember when you had one inbox.

At first, it was snail mail, and maybe you got a few pieces of mail a day. Or not.

In the 90s, email arrived and added a new inbox. In 1996, I think I got about 4-10 emails a day. Rather manageable.

Last year I counted up my inboxes. I have 11. Between social media inboxes, text messages, and a few email accounts, I have over 11 different channels people can use to message me.

Which means pretty much every time I look at my phone, someone is messaging me.

The thing about technology is that messages are always sent at the convenience of the sender, not at the convenience of the recipient, which deepens the sense of overwhelm you have because there’s rarely a time when someone isn’t trying to get your attention or ask you about something.

For me, that’s meant choosing a few inboxes in which I’ll be active while ignoring others (I realize that’s not for everyone).

It’s also meant deciding that I won’t always respond when the message comes in but instead when I’m ready and focused to respond.

Obviously, for a few people, I do respond right away.

Here’s my rule: the depth of relationship should determine the depth and speed of your response.

What does that mean? It means my family, team, and perhaps very closest friends get a near-immediate response. Others get a response later when I’m out of my most productive zone or finished down time.

The depth of relationship should determine the depth and speed of your response.

5. Too Much Task-Switching

Cal Newport argues, persuasively in my view, that our minds were not designed to switch constantly between tasks.

Constantly checking email, toggling between Slack and the project you’re working on, and pausing to answer texts and take phone calls distracts you to the point where you can’t really focus enough to accomplish deep work.

Or as Cal Newport put it, “Slack built the right tool for the wrong way to work’ (he explains why here).

I know on days where I’m toggling many things, I can often put in eight or ten hours and feel like I’ve accomplished nothing at all.

The antidote to constant task-switching is to create deep periods of uninterrupted focus in your work.

Your brain needs to focus to produce quality work and, ultimately, a good quantity of work over time.

For me, that’s meant almost all notifications have been off on all my devices for years, and hours of time-blocked space most days with no or very few interruptions.

6. You’ve Forgotten That Busyness Is a Choice

This is a hard one for me, but the truth is that busyness is a choice.

You’re as busy as you want to be. No more, no less.

Most days this is hard to remember. The vortex of busyness draws you in deeply and regularly.

A few days ago I was on my front porch early in the morning while the sun rose and I listened to the birds. They weren’t rushed at all. Nor were the trees, or the grass. Or the sky.

The chaos I feel is, for the most part, internally generated.

I’m as busy as I want to be.

So are you.

Any Other Non-Obvious Reasons?

What other non-obvious reasons do you see for the chronic busyness that’s invaded most leaders’ lives?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Some Non-Obvious Reasons You Feel Busier Than Ever


  1. Janice Angevine on May 24, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    I am a child of God & loyally committed family member & friend. My story, like many, is riddled with joy, hard work, life traumas & history that cannot be changed.
    As a RN for 4 decades & more recently working as an Infection Preventionist @ an acute Behavioral Facility; no new working from home status. Just more work on the home front & a very different routine at work!!! I’m so grateful for all the TEAM work. Thank you, Jesus!

    Thank you for this positive vibe & blessing of information. ♥️

  2. hemp flowers on May 24, 2021 at 10:25 am

    Big thanks, Carey. I am totally agreed with you on the point that the person choose how busy he or she can be. I think it is important to set priorities, as nowadays most of us work remotely. Never forget about selfcare and spend few seconds for yourself.

  3. Phil Bischoff on May 4, 2021 at 6:37 pm

    “Even if you’re not working as many hours as you were a year ago, your mind is always working. And when your mind is always working, you’re working.”

    So true! This is something I’ve believed and felt, but never verbalized it. I appreciate you writing this thought down. As you said, you can’t fix a problem you don’t identify.

    The book “The Power of Full Engagement” was a game changer for me when I read it several years ago. Our staff is going to read it again this year and I’m grateful for that.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 5, 2021 at 4:12 pm

      Love that!

  4. Bob Bouwer on May 4, 2021 at 11:43 am

    Thanks for the wisdom. I have already been in two meetings were we used your insights for therapy! Keep up the great work. Lord have mercy.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 5, 2021 at 4:14 pm

      Love that!

  5. Mark on May 3, 2021 at 6:45 pm

    If you are paid a salary, those who pay you want everything done perfectly but as fast as possible. There is no down time. Taking time to think is not rewarded as it is not being productive.

  6. Les Booth on May 3, 2021 at 4:43 pm

    You ripped the thought right off my neuron pathway, B!!! Irony is the maxim for today’s crazy world. 😳

  7. JOAO ARNOLDO GORZ on May 3, 2021 at 2:44 pm

    Thank you fior this, I`ll take more care!

  8. B on May 3, 2021 at 2:17 pm

    Can’t help but see the irony in –feeling overwhelmed by all the messages coming at you. I’ve got the solution: “Sign up for my email list!”

    • Cheryl on May 3, 2021 at 3:17 pm

      I had the same thought B. I cannot, nor do I want too, sign up for any more emails. One of the many things I have done in the past that has me feeling overwhelmed and failed at, because I don’t have the time to read them. In fact I may only read 1 of these every week or two. I do appreciate Carey’s tips…and manage as best I can to read them.

      • Carey Nieuwhof on May 3, 2021 at 8:01 pm

        Ha ha. All right you people at the back keep it down…. (Joke)

        Great point. So for sure, the unsubscribe button is easy. People leave every day. BUT more people join, and I have numerous emails I sign up for to get better as a leader and human that I’m excited to get. For sure it’s a choice.

        Commercial ended….Carry on. 🙂


    • Les Booth on May 3, 2021 at 4:43 pm

      You ripped the thought right off my neuron pathway, B!!! Irony is the maxim for today’s crazy world. 😳

    • Janice Angevine on May 24, 2021 at 6:04 pm

      Exactly what I thought!:) Funny! Life is paradox!

  9. Juan Rivera on May 3, 2021 at 1:40 pm

    Carey, thanks for starting this important conversation. I will share part of my story, which, in a way, is unique.

    I had been an Executive Pastor at our church for 30 years and our lead pastor decided to begin the process of retiring in January, 2020. On Sunday, March 8, 2020 his official retirement and my commissioning service as new Lead Pastor happened; 6 days later our state went into lockdown. I went from 600 to 10 people in one week, while still having to continue all of my old responsibilities and begin navigating into my new Lead role. If one positive thing came from my transition it was that the pressure to measure up to my successful predecessor was completely taken away from me on my first Sunday.

  10. Matthew Brookes on May 3, 2021 at 11:23 am

    This one hit the spot where I’m living right now. The rule on response time based on depth of relationship is golden! For me, that was the wisdom I needed to help me say inwardly “It’s OK if I don’t respond to this right now. I can wait until I’m ready to respond.”
    Great article!

  11. Leila Quinlan on May 3, 2021 at 11:11 am

    This was a particularly helpful one – I need constant reminders of what you’ve laid out here. I took a deep breath after reading and reflecting on what I do to myself sometimes with over scheduling. We are called to a life with intentional Sabbath time, thanks for the reminder☺️

  12. Eric on May 3, 2021 at 10:05 am

    Leaders aren’t leaders unless they have people to lead. During the pandemic a pervasive attitude of many formerly active workers immediately became….. “I don’t have to do anything now…… After all, government told me to stay home.” The past year has been especially devastating to leaders because so few staff have been willing to help do the actual work of the church.

  13. Doris on May 3, 2021 at 10:04 am

    This is so relevant and so true. My schedule was controlling me vs. me controlling my schedule. My anxiety has been increasing daily. My administrative assistant, who I didn’t use as much as I could or should came to me and said, “I have a gift in this area and you are drowning. Let me schedule your appointments and build in down times, Project times, email response time. I’m good at saying no politely and working with people to schedule them when it is better for you. Let me help.” I had to be honest and humble enough to agree and to recognize and admit that we were going to be better together than I was by myself. I’m grateful to her for her help and her persistence-it is not the first time she offered.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 3, 2021 at 12:53 pm

      So glad to help!

  14. Kristen Ezmirly on May 3, 2021 at 9:40 am

    While this isn’t my own original thought, this post reminded me of something else you’ve said that is absolutely a factor for me: something along the lines of, “If you don’t plan how to use your time, everyone else will.” It’s absolutely true.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 3, 2021 at 12:54 pm


  15. Rich Pancoast on May 3, 2021 at 9:38 am

    Always great stuff! Thank you!

  16. Lillian Holt on May 3, 2021 at 8:06 am

    Thank you for this!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 3, 2021 at 12:55 pm


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