Are you too busy to take the 5 minutes it will take to read this blog post? If so, you aren’t alone. And I will add that if you are too busy to read about busyness, you might be in a place you might not want to be. The reality is that busyness does not help our health, our mindset or our relationships-all essential components of happiness. Author Sarah Napthali writes about the effects of busyness on parenting, “Busyness undermines our capacity for acts of love by robbing us of time to listen to others, notice how they’re feeling and help them.”
Is busy really the new fine? In his thought-provoking video Enough Time, Jeff Shinabarger reveals how the word busy has substituted the word fine. It’s even gotten to the point where people are upping one another (or themselves) by saying, “Oh, I’m busier than ever.” Or “My, things are just insane right now!” Emails, text and phone messages begin with “I’m sorry it’s taken me so long, I have been so busy.” or “I hate to bother you, I know how busy you are.” And, if someone responds to you with “I’m busy…and you?” nearly always the perpetuating response will be “Yep, me too”.
Busyness is a strange phenomenon. We love it. We hate it. We brag about it. We apologize for it. We get overwhelmed by it yet are continually seeking more. We are offended by what busyness does to us. It keeps us from friends and families, stealing from our priorities. Yet we are so grateful to it, basking in the fact that it validates us…as if the fact that we are busy somehow proves our significance. We convince ourselves that we have become busy because of our ambition, motivation and drive and many times this is true in the beginning, but if we are not careful, it can consume, invade and overtake our lives. We are stressed out, we don’t sleep, we don’t eat well, we get sick and it becomes a perpetual cycle. Not enough time…more to do.
It is important to note here that there is a distinct difference between busyness and productivity. And let me be clear that I am no angel of inactivity. Early on as an executive and even before then, I was the ringleader of the I- am-crazy-busy-circus. Sometimes it was productive busyness and sometimes it was simply self-fulfilling. It wasn’t until after much soul searching that I learned that I was creating a lot of the culture of busyness for myself and as a result of my example, for others too. For me, busyness was a way to protect me from, well…me. I owed it to myself, my family, and those I was leading to halt the culture of busyness and foster the culture of values, balance, priorities and productivity.
Busyness can serve as a certainty, a reassurance, a break from emptiness. Our lives could not possibly be meaningless if we are busy. We must be important if we are completely scheduled and needed every hour of the day. After I became more comfortable with myself and my life, I stepped down as the queen of the busyness rodeo. I chose to seek balance in my work life which, by the way, is incredibly possible. It’s just not always easy.
The frantic, hectic, and all-consuming nature of our culture’s day-to-day existence might be as difficult an addiction to break as smoking or drugs. Many experts have given name to the effects of it: The Stress Syndrome. Tim Kreider, commentator for the New York Times describes the busyness trap as a “hysteria that is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it… it’s something we collectively force one another to do,” and changing these habits are not easy.
It is admittedly easy to get caught in the hustle and bustle of work, life, and intersecting priorities. But you have the power to disable busyness. Next time someone says “Busy, and you?” try changing your response. Since you are likely too busy to add anything else to your list, I will leave you with three simple thoughts on disarming the busyness in your life:
Challenge the concept of busyness in your day so that you can embrace productivity. Ask yourself questions such as:
- “Is what I am doing now either necessary or something I am passionate about?”
- “Does this task deserve to be on my list? Is it essential to my life/role?”
- “What would happen if I did not do this?”
- “Is there something more important I should be doing?”
Embrace the word no. Period. (People will still love you. In fact, they may admire you even more.)
- “No, I’m sorry, I wish I could help.”
- “No, we have a family policy to be home for dinner so I won’t be available then.”
- “No, thank you for asking me. Maybe next time.”
- “No, I am not able to do that at this time. Here is what I am able to do. Would that help?”
Create space in your day (and in your life) and be accepting of it. (your brain and body need the idle time)
- Protect your lunch breaks. Chew slowly to taste each bite.
- Put your phone down while waiting for appointments and take a moment of intentional solitude.
- Keep the radio off during your commute to sit quietly with your thoughts.
- Consider meditating or finding quiet time to think and dream big.
Are you too busy? What is one thing you can do disarm the busyness in your life?