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Take a break from the busyness

If you find yourself challenged to let go -- even for a weekend -- you might want to try these three tips for disconnecting from your busyness.

6 min read



Susan Fowler

If work is your life, then how do you disconnect? If you are challenged to let go even when you “aren’t at work,” perhaps it’s time to explore why.

The reasons for not disconnecting matter. Do you wear busyness as a badge of honor, e.g., “I’m so busy doing important things that I don’t have time for anything else”? You might consider, how is it that many of the most successful people in the world find time to sharpen their axe, refresh their spirit and connect with people they love? You have the same 24 hours a day as everyone else on the planet.

Is your inability to disconnect fueled by the need for gaining the by-products of your busyness: power and control, money and social status? Or do you work multiple jobs, day-in and day-out, for higher-level values such as providing an education for your children, supporting those less fortunate or meeting your obligations willingly with gratitude and without fanfare?

A young Google executive, famous for her round-the-clock work ethic and success at developing a program most of us know by name, opted into a coaching initiative to help manage her time. On our second call, she revealed that she requested coaching for her personal life, not her professional life. Her health was at risk, she worried that she wasn’t spending quality time with her children, and she suspected her husband was having an affair. I had coached other Google execs and not gotten this deeply into personal issues. I am not, after all, a licensed psychologist. I explained that we could focus on her work practices and monitor how they affected her personal issues.

A month into the coaching, she announced that she’d scheduled a vacation — a true sign of progress. But she expressed concern. What if she couldn’t disconnect and be fully present with her family? We had practiced the skill of motivation during our sessions, including reflecting through mindfulness. But she said she needed five specific actions to help her disconnect.

In the spirit of dampening her need to overachieve, I agreed on three. If you find yourself challenged to let go — even for a weekend — you might want to try these three tips for disconnecting from your busyness.

1. Change what you listen for

At work you tend to listen with an ulterior motive. You listen for information you can use to get an intended result. You listen for clues you can act on, a point you can elaborate on, or a gap in logic you can fill.

To disconnect, change what you listen for. Listen for someone’s needs, not so you can act on them, but as an act of kindness and compassion. Listen for the essence of what they are saying—not the content, but their emotions.

Don’t hold yourself accountable for acting on what you hear. Simply change what you listen for and be with the person and their needs—not your need to do something, say something, or make something happen.

2. Ask “Why”

Before scheduling an activity, giving someone feedback, or taking an action, stop. Ask yourself…

  • Why am I doing this?
  • Why do I need to do this?
  • Why should I do this?
  • Why would I do this?

If you cannot answer the question with a meaningful value, noble purpose or inherent joy, don’t do it. If reducing tension and stress is desirable, consider the source of tension and stress. Why would you feel stress if you are following meaningful values, a noble purpose and your bliss?

When you are living an authentic life, your actions are meaningful. You work hard, but your work is focused. Your work is important, but not an indicator of your worth. Your work presents challenges but doesn’t leave you physically weak or wishing you had time to paint, do yoga or spend quality time with your family.

3. Notice your energy

Are you radiating positive energy that reflects mindfulness, lack of judgement and an openness to what is? Do you generate positive energy in others or drain it? Does your energy impart tension, stress and busyness, or does it promote love, compassion and healing? The world is energy. You can channel it and purify it; or use it and pollute it. Notice the energy you project, but don’t judge it. Just reflect, “That’s interesting.”

My client returned from her vacation with a new-found ability to appreciate the moment and the people sharing that moment. As witness to her revelations, I am convinced that the most important skill for our world, especially right now, is mindfulness. Most of our suffering is born from our inability to disconnect from busyness, unhealthy patterns of behavior, our fears, distorted stories we tell ourselves thinking they’re true, implicit or explicit bias, prejudice and preconceived notions that obscure an innate connection to our authentic self and the greater good.

Studies on mindfulness show that, with minimal effort, we are more empathetic and compassionate — not just to others, but also to ourselves. Imagine if we all became mindfully aware that what we do to others, we do to ourselves, and vice versa.

So, this weekend, mindfully change what you listen for, ask why before acting and notice your energy. Take a break from the busyness and appreciate the true fruits of your labor.


Susan Fowler implores leaders to stop trying to motivate people. In her latest bestselling book, she explains “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing. She is the author of bylined articles, peer-reviewed research and six books, including the bestselling “Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager” with Ken Blanchard. Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs, such as the Situational Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines. For more information, visit

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