3 Reasons Business Owners Are So Busy 

+ How You Can Break the Cycle

Business owners are so damn busy, all the time. One of the most common complaints I hear from new clients is that there are never enough hours in the day.

But when you travel outside of North America, or if you find yourself exploring the smaller, rural communities far-flung from urban centers, you’ll notice that life slows down.

It’s one of the things I love about traveling.

People slow down. They don’t walk as quickly or talk as quickly. They don’t wolf down lunch at their desk, eating with one hand while working away with the other. They actually take their days off to enjoy themselves and spend time with friends and family.

Everything and everyone moves at a slower pace. It can feel luxurious if you’re used to living at breakneck busyness, provided you can slow down enough to enjoy it.

Busyness to the point of burnout is an inherent part of the story we tell ourselves about “making it” as a successful entrepreneur and business owner. And we celebrate that, but we don’t often talk about why we laud this behavior that leaves us overwhelmed and exhausted when we know that it is unhealthy and unsustainable.

We complain about being busy all the time, so why don’t we slow down? 

The Reason Behind Busyness #1: Striving for Status

As much as we say we want to slow down and enjoy life, being busy has become a status symbol in American life. We live in a society that tells us that we can do it all, if we just work hard enough. So we conflate busyness with productivity, efficiency, being needed, and being respected, and we strive for it. The busier we are, the more important we feel. 

The truth is that when you’re constantly juggling every aspect of your life and business, inevitably, you’re going to drop a ball. Whether you miss an important deadline with a client or celebrating a significant milestone with a loved one, constant busyness comes at the expense of the quality of your work, your life, and your health.

The Solution: Sit with what is important to you. Check your priorities. Find your balance.

Our pursuit of busyness comes from a place of wanting to be seen as successful or important, so how do we find a solution for wanting to be perceived in a certain light? 
Like so many things in life and business, letting go of the weight of other people’s expectations is a process of getting clear about who you are, what you want, and what a sustainable work-life balance looks and feels like for you. 
Now, when you think of the word “balance,” you might picture a seesaw that is perfectly horizontal, where the energy invested in work and business on one side is equal to the energy dedicated to your personal life. 
That isn’t what I mean, because I don’t believe that’s possible.
Work-life balance is a pendulum that swings with the ebbs and flows of your life and your business.  There are genuinely times when our personal lives need way more of our attention than our business or our work does. There are also times when our work demands more of our time than our personal lives. If we allow ourselves the freedom and the luxury of shifting our priorities as we need to, without being so concerned about how they measure up or what other people might think, then we can find our own balance and invest our care and our presence where it is most needed, when it is most needed. 
The real truth is that your work-life doesn’t need the fullness of your presence, attention, and intention as often as your personal life does. 
Work is just one facet of your life, but your personal life includes you, your physical and mental health, your need for play, creativity, and expression, and also the people who are close to you, and those relationships that need to be nourished with time and care. Yet, we tend to focus on our work life as if it were so much more significant than our personal lives, even though it encompasses so much less.
Unraveling your conditioning to pursue busyness and status requires sitting with what really matters to you as an individual and giving yourself permission to adjust your priorities accordingly. 

The Reason Behind Busyness #2: Being Busy Soothes Your Nervous System. 

From the time we are young, we’re taught that we need to work hard, get good grades, and excel at whatever we do–whether that’s athletics, the arts, academics, or ideally all of the above.

Since childhood, we’ve been training our nervous systems to feel comfortable with being busy and doing it all. We’re expected to push through anxiety, stress, fear, and even physical discomfort in our striving to be good students, gifted athletes, talented artists, strong leaders, and above all, hard workers. 

All the while, we’re conditioning our brains and bodies to respond to stress and anxiety with busyness, to the point that it becomes an unconscious coping mechanism we use to soothe ourselves. This creates adults who are preoccupied with being busy, who are unable to genuinely relax, and business owners who suffer from sleepless nights, constant fatigue, anxiety, isolation, and burn-out.

The Solution: Cultivate more sustainable coping mechanisms.

Thankfully, our brains and our bodies are incredibly adaptable and we are capable of learning new ways to self-soothe. The first step is to find things that engage you and that you truly enjoy. Maybe it’s when you take time to tend the garden, play guitar, or go for a hike that you find yourself breathing more deeply, relaxing your shoulders away from your ears, and unclenching your jaw, without even realizing it.
I’ve always been a big reader, but I’m also a crafter. For years I used knitting as a way of soothing myself. Now that my hands aren’t so nimble, I’m learning to punch needle. Some people do yoga to relax and unwind, some people go for a daily walk, and others like my husband listen to music to destress.
Those are the hobbies and activities that we need to identify, so we can consciously create time for them, and intentionally turn to them when we’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed so that we can learn new coping mechanisms and patterns of behavior.
For a lot of business owners, I might even say most, the things we enjoy in our “free time” are often the first things to go when we feel overwhelmed by the demands on our time. One of my clients has been playing the cello for almost twenty years, but as her business grew, she played less and less often. So, as part of our work together, I assigned her homework: play the cello every day, even if just for five minutes. 
It takes time to build a habit. I routinely assign this kind of homework to my Catapult clients because over the nine months we work together, the homework becomes a habit, and they develop a healthier, more fulfilling, way of coping with stress and soothing their system. 
My cello-playing client has trained herself to come home, take a breath, sit down, and play, no matter what is happening in the world. At this point, it’s become part of her daily routine, and she’s noticing that she has more energy, she’s much more effective at work, she’s more focused, and more intentional.
Practice pursuing the things you enjoy. When you create time and space in your schedule for life outside of your business, instead of giving your work what you’ve got left in the tank, you empower yourself to bring your best to the table.

The Reason Behind Busyness #3: We actually have no idea how else to be. 

There is an entire industry dedicated to teaching people how to know and understand themselves. In 2021, the personal growth industry was valued at over 40 billion USD. 

We don’t know how to recognize ourselves anymore. Sometimes we just don’t want to look, because it’s hard to see the ways we have taught ourselves to show up in the world.

We’re so busy that we’ve lost touch with who we are and what we like to do outside of work. We complain endlessly that there’s too much to do and never enough time for our friends, families, hobbies, or even a moment to ourselves. But we also don’t know any other way to live.

We’ve bought into the myth that hustling and grinding ourselves to the edge of burn-out is the only way we’re ever going to be able to make our dreams come true.

In the beginning, when you’re growing through the startup phase of your business, you have to put in a lot of time and energy and damn hard work. But once you’ve survived those first few years, you come to a place in business where the hustle becomes the bottleneck that is holding you back from continued growth. 

Busyness keeps you preoccupied with the micro-level of your business. 

What your business needs is for you to take a more expansive perspective, to cultivate a macro understanding and approach to your company because the big picture is where creative vision lives. It’s where leadership and innovation live. It’s the difference between being a busy, burnt-out business owner and owning your role as the CEO of your company.

The Solution:  Stop looking for “the answer” and start experimenting.
I always try to approach my work as if it were a science experiment. Like I don’t have the answers, I have ideas. Because I don’t think that any of us really has the answers, we have clues. The only way to figure out if those clues will work for us is to take a chance, find out what happens, and see how it makes us feel. 
It takes practice, and a willingness to experiment, which requires a willingness to fail. Scientists approach their experiments with a hypothesis, or a theory, but they don’t have any proof that their experiment is going to work until they go through every step and find out what happens in the end. 
Many experiments don’t work, and you have to go back to the drawing board to check in on what you do know, adjust your hypothesis, refine your approach, and try again
Unlearning busyness so that you can take a step back and gain perspective is an essential part of learning to lead from a place of being the CEO and creative visionary of your business. 
It is fundamental to discovering the processes and methodologies that will increase revenue and productivity without increasing stress and grinding you and your team to exhaustion. 
And it’s imperative to building a business that supports the life you want to live.

Start by experimenting. 

Start with finding something you enjoy, an activity that calms you down, lowers your blood pressure, and lets you breathe more easily. Practice doing more of whatever that thing is, and tuning in to how it feels, and see what shifts.

Learning (and Unlearning) is a Process

Growth takes time and breaking the cycle of busyness requires patience. 

Cut yourself some slack. 

As entrepreneurs, many of us really struggle when it comes to being gracious with ourselves. We have so much grace for the other people in our lives; when our friends come to us with their troubles, fears, and mistakes, we offer them grace and support. Yet, we struggle to create the same space for our own growth and learning.

When you feel yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed or wanting to hurry this learning journey along, ask yourself:

Am I striving for status? What’s really important to me in this moment?

Do I need to take time to soothe myself with a soothing or relaxing activity, however briefly, to reset right now? 

What is my “busy business owner” response to what is happening? What would the opposite reaction look like? What else is possible?

Going Beyond Busyness

Detaching ourselves from the ideal of being busy isn’t just an opportunity to reclaim your time, energy, and your social life. It’s also an opportunity to redefine your values, how you want to do business, and how you want to live your life.

Here are some of my favorite perspective expanding practices to support and encourage you as you experiment with finding the solutions that set you and your business up for sustainable growth and success:

Want more?

For more business insight and expert guidance, find me on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram.

Work with me. I don’t offer a one-size-fits-all template to manage your time, increase profitability, and grow your business because there is no such thing. When we work together one-on-one, we become scientists together, and your business becomes a playground where we experiment with ideas, tools, and techniques until we find what works best for you, your team, and your clients.

After Catapult, 92% of my clients work almost 30% fewer hours, and many of them take their first work-free vacation since starting their business.

If you’re ready to break the cycle of busyness so that you can work less, make more, and own your role as the CEO of your company, we might make a perfect team to catapult you and your business to the next level. Find out here.

dana corey signature

Are you an overloaded CEO?

Which of the 5 Swamped Business Owner Syndromes is keeping you inundated, stressed, and exhausted?

Take this personalized assessment to find your strategic next steps.

Take the Quiz!