When you are too busy, saying yes to every assignment and offer, you can quickly become overwhelmed. The frantic busyness of crammed calendars makes us feel stressed, a stress that takes a physical toll on our bodies in the long run.
But there is an upside to busyness, a study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found. When your mind is kept busy, it forces your brain to learn and grow.
Busy people had the highest cognitive performance
As we age in our careers, an active, busy lifestyle can be the brainpower boost we need to keep our memories fresh. In 2016, researchers at the University of Texas and the University of Alabama tested over 300 adults who were ages 50 to 89 on busyness and cognition, and tested them again in four years later. Busy people said they often had too many things to do each day to actually get it all done and were likely to miss bedtimes to get more work done. The participants who reported greater busyness had a stronger cognitive performance.
“Greater busyness was associated with better processing speed, working memory, episodic memory, reasoning, and crystallized knowledge,” the researchers concluded.
When you are busy, you have more opportunities for meeting new people and encountering new situations, accelerating learning and growth. “A busy person is likely to be exposed to more information and more types of situations on a daily basis,” the research suggests. “This potential abundance of new learning in busy people may contribute to the maintenance of new hippocampal neurons, which may assist episodic memory.”
But don’t get too busy
Busyness can help you better recall where and when you met that colleague, but of course, it comes with well-documented downsides. The study did not specifically test the relationship between cognition, busyness, and stress, and the researchers acknowledged that busyness could also limit time for relaxation or self-reflection, positive benefits employees need to recharge.
And for workaholics who make busyness a part of their identity, being busy can become an excuse to drop every other commitment, including the ones you make to your fellow employees. One study found that overworked managers were the most likely to treat their employees unfairly in the pressure to meet deadlines. When you are staying busy just to stay busy, you have less time to stop and reflect if you are actually accomplishing something or are doing the right thing.
So feel free to be a busy bee, as long as you acknowledge the important caveats. Keeping your calendar filled with fun activities and events — at a rate that does not deplete you or stress you or the people around you! — can keep your mind sharp.