Too Busy? You Might Have Action Bias.

action bias

By Rosalinda Rosales

The greeting starts out routine. You bump into a friend at the grocery store and they ask how you are. You find yourself thinking you aren’t that busy, at least, not enough to describe how you are. Things have settled down and work and family are status quo. Do you hesitate to say it… that you, in fact, aren’t busy? Are you embarrassed that it will sound as if you are dull, unimportant, or unmotivated?

Dr. Bradley R. Staats, researcher at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, suggests a possible explanation for such a reaction. He calls it “action bias.” Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Staats explains:

“We would rather be seen doing something than doing nothing. When the going gets tough, the tough get going right? This idea is so deeply ingrained that we are afraid to give the appearance of doing nothing, even when it is the best strategy.”

Science backs up this up. A study done in 2016 by Silvia Bellezza of Columbia Business School found that there are certain things that signal more busyness, and from that busyness, more status. Some of these busyness status symbols include using a Bluetooth headset or using online grocery services.

But Staats believes we must push back against this false perception. Citing another study done by researchers at Harvard, he explains that employers penalize workers who put in fewer hours at work and reward those who appear to be burning the midnight oil. The study found that there was no difference in the performance of the two groups.

Staats suggests that a better way to be more effective is to stop for contemplation, for it is through contemplation that we learn and self-improve. He says,

“When we sit at our desks and debate whether to take a short walk or to brainstorm for five minutes on the problem at hand, we may think that the time spent not acting is wasted. But we need sufficient time to rejuvenate during the workday, between workdays and on vacation if we are to be able to learn successfully.”

Now, you may be thinking, “All this sounds nice, but the fact remains: I AM VERY BUSY!”

If so, here are three ways to fight the busyness and find time for contemplation:

1. Put the phone down: I don’t know about you, but I feel very busy during the holiday season. It seems I hardly have time to get coffee with a friend or read for leisure. It turns out, according to my smartphone’s tracking app, I spent three hours on my phone yesterday. I can guarantee you there is no way I spent the entirety of that time on my email. If I put my phone away, I think I’d get a lot more done.

2. Make a to-do list:  A study from Florida State University professors Roy Baumeister and E. J. Masicampo found that writing down all the things you need to do can help relieve anxiety. In other words, you don’t need to be preoccupied with keeping everything straight in your head. The more detail you write down, the better, for “Simply writing the tasks down will make you more effective.”

3. Carve out time for Meditation/Prayer: You’ve likely heard it before, but setting aside even 15 minutes to reflect can be quite beneficial. Mayo Clinic suggests:

“Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that can benefit both your emotional well-being and your overall health. And these benefits don’t end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day…”

Life in the modern world is faced-paced. In some ways there is no escaping that. Perhaps this holiday season we can get more creative about how to allow time for rest and contemplation. After all, it’s the more productive thing for a busy person to do.

This post Too Busy? You Might Have Action Bias. was originally published on Intellectual Takeout by Rosalinda Rosales.

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