Frazzled, stressed out and running around with a feeling of importance, we hate being busy yet we’re constantly striving for busyness at the same time. In a world of abundant resources and instant access we seem to have increasingly less time. Technology allows us to do things better, faster and even more creatively but it has also made us constantly on-call. Our phones are pinging and vibrating with notifications of email, Facebook, Twitter just waiting for us to respond.
There’s a sense of pride and accomplishment when we say we’re too busy; a feeling of importance, a feeling of being needed. But is keeping ourselves busy keeping us from our life? We crave purpose in our lives but being busy is not the same as being driven by purpose. It’s just being busy.
I find that busyness does 3 things:
- Gives us a false sense of purpose
- Makes us feel important
- Keeps us from focusing on the big things
CREATING A FALSE SENSE OF PURPOSE
Have you ever been so busy at work that you skip lunch, working nights, lose track of time but also just waiting for the day to end? That’s been my life for the last 2 weeks and as much as I would like to, I can’t complain. I’ve had it much worse during my auditing days. I hated it but, at the same time, being busy gave me a sense of purpose, albeit a false sense of purpose but a purpose nonetheless.
It’s in our nature to find a purpose. We’ve been asking the unanswerable question of “What is the Purpose of Life” for a bajillion years and still nothing. But instead of focusing on the big goals that could really bring us an answer to this question, we create a false sense of purpose by keeping our minds busy with the small tasks of every day life.
Running around doing chores, working on projects that you don’t really care about, it occupies our minds from thinking about the really big stuff, and more importantly, these tasks are achievable. We feel accomplished after we’ve come home from a big shopping spree or completing a project that someone else gave us. But how many of these tasks really matter and which ones are just time thieves? We need to ask ourselves if these tasks are really giving us purpose or are we forcing purpose into these tasks.
THE FEELING OF IMPORTANCE
When someone asks you what you’ve got going on, do you feel like puffing up your chest when listing off a hundred things? When we say we’re too busy, it’s like we’re bragging about how important and successful we are. We “hate” being busy but, secretly, we put ourselves on a pedestal when we’re saying how little time we have to eat and sleep. Being busy somehow makes us feel like we matter in this world.
We’ve been so conditioned into believing that busy equals being important that we no longer know how to separate the two. Being busy is like a badge of honour, a symbol of success. Success, nowadays, means having our faces buried in our phones, looking frazzled and running around with a crazed look in our eyes. Is that really how we want to be seen in the world?
“When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?” — Omid Safi
MISSING THE BIG THINGS
Being busy has become an epidemic. We strive for it, and when we’re not busy we feel like we’re wasting time. But what are we busy with? As Henry David Thoreau said, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”
We all try to schedule time to relax but when we eventually have a free day, we fill it up the first chance we get and how much of these calendar fill ups are essential and which ones are we just slotting in because we can?
When we fill our day with every day tasks, invites, and chores, we make ourselves unavailable to big things, the things that make us uncomfortable, the things that make us question ourselves. We use our busyness to avoid things like dating, finding the right career, starting our own business, creating art. We avoid them because we don’t know what’s behind those curtains so we stay in our comfort zone and we fill up our schedule to fill up our minds. We don’t give ourselves time to breathe, meditate and even ponder the big things in our life because if we do, we might realize we’re not where we want to be and that’s a hard reality to face. So we push them to the back of our minds, hoping that if we keep ourselves busy enough, the unease will go away.
We’ve developed a lifelong habit of busy work and it can be hard to step out of it. Here are 3 steps to take to curb the habit of being busy simply for the sake of being busy:
RESCHEDULING YOUR SCHEDULE
Take a look at your schedule. What is it filled with? Chores? Things you dread doing or going to? I get it, some chores are a necessary part of life like doing laundry and grocery shopping. But we need to reevaluate how much time we’re spending for these activities. Are you doing 5 loads of laundry ever weekend or going to the grocery store 3 times a week?
Start by listing everything you do during the week and the reason why you need to do them. Are you running to the grocery store 3 times a week because you have no idea what to eat? Maybe a weekly meal plan (and sticking to it) would help. You’d be surprised at how much time we can save by making small tweaks to our schedule.
PRIORITIZE THE BIG THINGS FIRST
What are your lofty goals that you don’t think you can achieve? Write them down and plan them out. The biggest goals are achieved through the smallest steps. Do you want to write a book? Start by writing half an hour or 200 words every day, focusing on the process more than the results. More often than not, we do the insignificant tasks first thinking that once we get them out of the way, we can focus on the big things but that’s rarely the case. Every decision we make throughout the day drains our mental capacity and if we’re making decisions on the small tasks first, we’re exhausted by the time we come to the big decisions.
JUST SAY NO
It’s ok to say no to invites and asks. It doesn’t make us bad people if we don’t want to do something. We might feel guilty but we’ll also feel liberated. We need to stop defaulting to yes and start actively choosing where and how we invest our time. We all know there are 24 hours in a day but how many of those hours are actually free to spend as we wish? If you’re working, that’s 8 hours right there (not including travel time and overtime), 8 hours to sleep, 2 hours for dinner; how do you want to spend the remaining 6 hours?
“DON’T GET SO BUSY MAKING A LIVING THAT YOU FORGET TO MAKE A LIFE” — Dolly Parton
In a world where busy is celebrated, it’s up to us to decide what we’re celebrating. In the words of Andy Dufresne, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”
Here’s to the chase,