Would you describe yourself as busy? Most of us do—and most of us are. Most of us have considerably more to do than we have time for, at work, at home, and even in our leisure hours. That’s the way our culture has been set up, and it’s become a common way for us to think about ourselves. And even though we sometimes complain about being too busy, secretly we’re often just a little proud of how in demand we are. Busyness is often something we’ve chosen.
Why do we like being busy? Busy feels important. Being busy excuses us from things outside our comfort zones, or things we don’t want to do (“Oh, I’m so busy, I just don’t have time for…”). Busy keeps us from thinking too deeply about our lives and whether or not we’re happy.
I’ve decided I don’t like being busy. Busy makes me feel rushed and out of control, two feelings I hate. Busy makes me feel stressed and inadequate. When I tell myself I have a busy day ahead, I rush through it, trying to get everything on my to-do list done, when really what I should do is take a careful look at everything on the list, and winnow it down into something manageable. This might mean organizing errands into an efficient order, putting something off to another day, or even skipping it altogether (newsflash: nobody came to arrest me when I didn’t put up the fall decorations this year).
My upcoming week is a good example. In addition to all the things I already do, I have a hair cut, an appointment with a saddle fitter, and an evening out with a friend scheduled. I’ve also got several errands to do that I’ve already put off at least once, including buying office supplies, making a deposit, and going to the library to pick up and drop off books.
The reality is I can handle all this in a state of harassment, feeling overwhelmed and “busy,” or I can change my attitude, plan my days carefully, and stay in the moment instead of looking too far ahead. I can simplify in other areas by planning less complicated meals or skipping certain household chores, and I can build in buffer time to recover. Most important of all, I can simply refuse to rush. If it turns out that everything on my list simply can’t get done, I’m going to jettison the least important thing(s) and not worry about it. (But that haircut is definitely happening!)
In addition to changing my attitude towards what I do, I’m also experimenting with the following ways to banish the feeling of busy:
- Making time for idleness. That means doing nothing. Not reading, not watching TV or web surfing. Even just for a few minutes a day. Tim Kreider writes in “The Busy Trap”: “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.”
- Not allowing work to bleed into leisure time. I find this especially hard since I work and play at home. What I’m trying is setting certain hours where I will only do leisure activities, whether it be reading, sketching, watching something on TV, etc. I won’t try to fold laundry, read emails, brainstorm article ideas, or clean the kitchen at the same time.
- Choosing my top three most important tasks and making sure they get done. Then the rest of the day is cake. (And if I finish early, instead of adding more work to my list, why not add more play? I should reward myself for my efficiency!)
- Becoming more mindful of what makes it on to my to-do list in the first place.
So what am I going to replace busy with? Some terms I’ve heard others use to describe their lives include diverse, focused, rich, multi-layered, and full. These words have a much different feel than busy. I think I like full the best. A full life makes me feel happy.
At this time of year especially, we seem to gear up and become whirling dervishes of action, filling our days with activity and busyness in the face of the oncoming holidays. Instead of taking on more and more, why not take at least one thing off the to-do list today? How does that feel?