For more than a decade, every time I have asked my husband how his day was, his response has been some variation of “Busy!” Similarly, friends will lament that there is never enough time, and even on social media, there seems to always be someone wanting to tell me (and their other 300 friends) just how crazy busy life is these days.
There’s no doubt the digital era has dissolved many of the natural boundaries previously created by time and geography. Rather than clocking off at 6pm, we are now literally available 24/7/365 via a device we carry around in our pockets. Even when we are not physically doing something, our minds are never still.
Is busyness a fact of modern life then, or do we still have an element of choice? I’ve come to think there are a few sneaky reasons we choose unrelenting busyness over a more leisurely-paced lifestyle.
For some, being busy is a badge of honour worn with great pride as if it reflects their level of importance. “I’m so CRAZY busy”, they say – with the subtext being “I am worthwhile. I matter.”
Staying endlessly busy means we don’t have time to engage in any kind of deep reflection or self-examination. When I meet people who appear to be addicted to busyness, I wonder what they fear they might encounter if they slow down enough to pay attention to what is really going on in their lives and relationships.
Being busy lets you off the hook for all sorts of things you don’t want to do. It is a convenient and acceptable avoidance strategy.
Many people feel pressure to excel in every area of life. This kind of perfectionism, contrary to popular belief, is not driven by a desire to be your best self, but by a fear of not ever being good enough (or of what people will think.)
If you tick any of those boxes or if you just feel life is spiralling out of control, I have a few suggestions for how to scale back and slow down:
- Pay attention to the urge to fill every moment with activity. Be curious about what drives you to keep moving and doing.
- Track your output. An efficient worker might complete in an hour what takes another person all day. If you assume busyness equates to productivity, try using an app such as ‘RescueTime’ to monitor how you’re spending your online time or ‘IDoneThis’ to measure your outcomes.
- Change your language. Instead of offering “I’m too busy” as an explanation for not doing something, Laura Vanderkam (author of “168 Hours”) suggests you say instead “It’s not a priority”. You might find this a painless exchange when you’re skipping a boring meeting but feel the difference when you apply it to your child’s sporting event or a family dinner.
- Learn to say no. Get clear about what matters to you and make time for it above anything else. I highly recommend the book “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown for advice on how to do this and why.
Most importantly, when someone asks how you are, try to catch yourself before you bemoan how busy you are and rush onto the next item on your to-do list. Perhaps even stop what you’re doing for a minute, take a deep breath, and engage in a conversation.