I almost didn’t get this post written. I’ve been so busy you see.
What with commuting, working four days a week, household chores and kids – writing blog posts frequently slips to the bottom of a long to do list.
So I was fascinated when I spotted this article from the BBC about how we all feel so busy – but we’re actually not. You mean the crazy is all in my imagination? Or am I just unproductively buzzing around? Whichever it is, it comes with a shock realization: If I’m not really busy then what am I doing?
The Glorification of Busy
The busyness epidemic was brought to my attention a few years ago. I was part of a women’s leadership development course. The course facilitator was a very smart person who offered tips for dealing with many communication issues. One that particularly frustrated her was finding how to respond to people who love to talk about just how hectic their life is. We’ve all been there to some extent or another. A friend or colleague who loves to glorify their rushing around and busyness – it makes them sound and feel so important. It can even lead to a conversational arms race of busy talk. I’m busier (more important) than you! The course leader’s recommended response to this type of conversationalist was simply this:
“yes, we are blessed with full lives, aren’t we?”
A very clever response that will hopefully get the conversation onto something more productive. We just don’t have time for all this busy talk in our busy lives.
So if you want to shut down a conversation about how busy your friend or colleague is that’s how to do it. On the other hand, I was recently made aware that conversing about busyness can be a great conversation starter.
I was part of a professional mentoring group, and we were addressing the very real pains of ‘networking’. Very few people like or enjoy it, but it’s touted as a great way to meet useful people and build relationships. Even if not at a formal networking event, apparently it’s important to make sure you strike up conversations with colleagues you don’t see often. Maybe the quick elevator conversation with someone you only vaguely know from another department. We all know how painful they can be. Well, I have the answer. The perfect conversation starter that will give your acquaintance the ideal opportunity to talk about themselves in whatever context they like. Here it is. It works. It’s scary how well it works. Try it out and get back to me.
“What’s keeping you busy these days?”
There it is – a golden opportunity to talk about whatever aspect of life that they want to, along with the unspoken acknowledgement that you know they are very important as they are very busy. It’s an all-around feel good.
So we all do it. We talk about how ‘full’ our lives are. We make others feel good by recognizing how full their lives are and giving them a chance to talk about it. What’s going on here? How did busy become a measure of a person’s importance and value? How did we all get so busy?
If Not Busy, Then What?
So are we truly busy? I know for a fact that my commute, picking up kids, cooking food and general chores do indeed fill my time and then some. My mark of busyness is knowing I can’t complete everything I feel I need to that’s on my to-do list. But whose fault is that? Whose to-do list is it? Well, it’s mine. And therein lies the rub.
The general wisdom around our busy lives is that unlike our parent’s generation, we can be, and are expected to be always on. Whether that’s work email, or accepting and responding to friend’s Facebook messages, we are expected to respond, produce and be available at all times. We also have the ability to get chores done at any point. Why not do your grocery shopping online while at the gym? There are always more things we can do, more emails to respond to, more things to read and more friends to contact.
This beautifully written opinion piece from the New York Times really puts into context what this constant activity all about. I quote because I simply cannot write it better myself
“…It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.
Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work…….”
“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”
So we need to feel busy to feel worthwhile. We need to tell others how busy we are to feel important. We’re probably not as busy as we think, but feeling like we have an endless to do list really just results in anxiety and feeling rushed. Tasks don’t get completed properly and we make bad time management decisions. Then we feel busier. It’s a vicious circle.
What can we do about it?
The Glorification of Leisure
The internet is full of suggestions for how to handle our busy lives and balance all of our commitments. A simple search will reveal all sorts of suggestions ranging from prioritizing tasks to meditation. I’d like to offer up my own take on a solution, which I think you’ll probably see is very biased towards Early Retirement. We’ve written recently about some of the reasons we want to escape the rat race, and about how my time will be as full as I want it to be. Here Mrs. PIE recommends “The Glorification of Leisure.”
Now I haven’t got this all down yet by any means, and I’m not the poster child for following my own advice, but here it is anyway. I believe that we can re-glorify leisure simply by saying no to the madness. This means protecting our time from the expectations of others. It might go something like this:
No, I won’t do anything work related outside of work hours.
No, I won’t take on extra tasks or social events that I really don’t want to do.
I will fill my to-do list with things I’m enthusiastic about and I won’t worry if they don’t get finished immediately.
I will learn to cope with the sad looks from other parents when I tell then no, my kids are not doing soccer, baseball, violin or whatever else.
I’ll happily report to others that I spent the morning reading a book and drinking coffee or playing a game with the kids and I WASN’T BUSY!
Have you fallen into the busyness trap? How do you Glorify Leisure?