Clipboard at the ready. Check. Arms crossed in a do-not-approach manner. Check. Face stony, set in a slightly annoyed arrangement (oh, seriously people, that's just how I look when I'm busy!). Welcome to The Busy Olympics.
Busyness has become a measure of success in our society and many of us like to ‘humblebrag’ about how busy we are. Kind of like a boast and an apology at the same time. And of course, this has become the everyday. Our collective busyness has become normalised. Shit, even our children are busy with their over scheduled after-school activities.
WHY SO BUSY?
There are many theories around why we’re all so damn busy. That we jam pack our schedules to avoid an empty life. That we have insecurity about down time and are afraid of the silence. That we feel the need to be busy to prove our self-worth to others. To simply to fit in and be like the friends and colleagues around us. Or that busyness is the only option and that our success hangs in the balance if we don’t get on board the busy bus.
In Tim Kreider's landmark 2012 New York Times piece "The 'Busy' Trap" he wrote that "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."
We’re busy, but are we happy? And are we truly getting more things done?
Busyness doesn't always equal productivity. Or fulfilment. Everyone (and not just those of us in the creative industries) usually has a bucket-load going on. This is often because we’re doing the work of more than one person, our human resources have been stripped and our work is often deadline driven. And we have children and partners and families and friends and pets to
In a work context of course there are times when things genuinely are busy, especially in the lead up to an event, a deadline or a launch. I know from experience that it’s not always possible to leave early.
But it’s fair to say that some of us seem to ‘do' busy better than others.
While some of our busy-ness is unavoidable, my personal experience is that much of it can be self-imposed. And you can kind of understand why as we live in in a culture with no “off” button. There are plenty of distractions to take us away from the task at hand if we allow them to. I could literally be ‘busy’ all day long on social media and have accomplished nothing.
WEARING THE BUSY-BADGE
When I worked on music festivals, it was like an unspoken competition, the constant pressure to prove who was the busiest. If you weren’t rushing around looking as though you were about to blow a gasket, you couldn’t possibly be doing your job. And of course, busyness is contagious!
Conversations with co-workers would go like this: ‘How are you? Ah so frickin busy, you?’ Well, I’m actually too busy to answer that question so you know, crazy busy’ and so on and so on. Or just the silent hand. I felt like someone needed to pin a medal on me. But of course, there was never a medal at the end. Just the metaphorical badge because for many of us being ‘busy’ is actually worn like a badge of honour, particularly, in a work context.
During this period of my life, I was always in the grip of some version of my “I’m so busy” story. I was busy from the moment I woke up in the morning until the moment I fell asleep at night. I had guilt associated with being BUSY and I had guilt associated with NOT being busy. I look back now and honestly cannot believe just how much energy I expended trying to rationalise all of this.
I remember my husband Mat asking me one night, as I crawled through the door at 10:00pm for the umpteenth night in a row, why I couldn’t get done what I needed to within reasonable working hours. That was a more than fair question and I couldn’t answer it. That was a pretty sharp reality check. I didn’t have children at the time but I did have a long-term relationship that I was effectively neglecting.
No-one had told me to be at work long into the evenings. I was doing that voluntarily. I was trying to prove, possibly to others, but mainly to myself, that I was on top of everything and had all the answers. I wanted to be perfect at my job. But this endless quest for perfection was taking its toll.
My reality was that my busyness covered up a whole lot of stuff in my life that I didn’t want to face. I didn’t want to admit that I was uncertain of what I was doing professionally. I was unsure that I was good at my job and truly felt like an imposter at time. I was generally feeling insecure even though all the evidence pointed to the fact that I was actually doing a really great job. I used busyness as a way to receive external validation because I wasn’t able to feel secure within myself. Well, she must be doing a great job. Look at her, working around the clock. Wow.
It was around the early 2000’s, after my husband asked me that question, that I had the ah-ha moment. Being ‘busy’ had officially defined me.
Do we have an accurate perception of our busyness? How often do we stop to reflect on how we’re actually using our time? If we don’t stop to think about what we’re doing, whether it’s a priority or not, and when the best time is to do it, our default can be to rush into the reactive mode that the drives busyness frenzy.
PRO COACHING TIPS FOR THE BUSY MINDSET
-Consider that the busy ‘mindset’ is a choice.
Sometimes busyness is NOT a choice. It’s a reality. But a busy mindset is a decision we make. The first, and most important, is to simply realise that we largely determine our schedules. Look closely at how you’re spending your time, how much time are spending on news sites and social media for example?
-Stop the glorification of ‘busy’
As I’ve mentioned Busy, in and of itself, is not a badge of honour. In fact, directed at the wrong pursuits, it can be a limiting factor to our full potential. It is okay to not be busy. Repeat this with me: It is okay to not be busy.
-Value and schedule downtime.
One of the reasons many of us keep busy schedules is that we sometimes fail to recognise the value of downtime. But this time is essential for our bodies and our minds. Set aside dedicated downtime for rest and family and friends. Intentionally schedule it on your calendar. Then, guard that time at all costs.
-Revisit your priorities.
Become more clear and intentional with your priorities in life. And schedule your time around those first.
-Find more ‘space’ in your daily routine.
It doesn’t have to be an hour-long meditation. Take time for lunch away from your desk. Eat with colleagues or go for a walk outside even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Find opportunity for breaks at work in between projects. Begin right away cultivating little moments of space in your otherwise busy day and notice the difference.
-Give yourself permission to use the word, “NO.”
Find freedom in the word NO. Learning to say “no” to less important commitments opens up your life to pursue those that are most important.
If you’re still certain you’re short on time, download a time log app and literally track your time, which will either confirm or disprove your busyness narrative.
FINAL WORDS ON BUSY-NESS
Finally, check yourself. Are you truly busy or are you operating in a busyness default position? Are you picking up on the busyness contagion of those around you?
-If you were to keep a blow by blow busyness journal over a week or a month, what would it reveal? Would you have a different perspective on your busy-ness?
-What is the smallest thing you can take away from your day that will have the biggest impact on your perception of time?
-Would you be less busy if you didn’t log onto social media, two and three times a day?
-Have you considered that if you're NOT busy, perhaps it's because all your planning has paid off and you have things under control?
-Accept that sometimes life and work is hectic and understand that it’s temporary.
Finally, if you’re constantly busy, ask yourself, ‘Am I happy?” Ironically, sometimes we talk ourselves into the notion that our busy-ness is temporary and that we’re somehow building a foundation for that elusive day somewhere off in the future when we will be free of our busy-ness.
Share with a friend who is not too busy to read :)
Coach Viv XO