If you look around you, everyone is always busy. Friends, Colleagues, You. Whenever you ask someone if they have some time to talk, even yourself, the answer is always the same, “Hopefully, next [insert unit of time]”. But is that always the case?
Sometimes, we are not busy, we just want the illusion of productivity. The illusion that we are always doing something. We like being overwhelmed with meetings and long to-do lists because that’s what we think we are supposed to do. We feel good about it and we endorse it.
Unfortunately, for some, being busy is not an option. Students working a job to support themselves and pay for their studies, parents with two jobs to support their family. Not everyone has the option to manage their schedule however they see fit. But, most people have that option — and yet, they rush through tasks, always feeling overwhelmed, without taking a moment to reflect, “Am I enjoying this?” or “Does this bring me closer to my goals?”
Research shows that humans tend to do whatever it takes to keep busy, even if the activity feels meaningless to them. Dr. Brené Brown from the University of Houston describes being “crazy busy” as a numbing strategy we use to avoid facing the truth of our lives.
We are afraid of stillness because that would mean that we have to consider what we want from our lives, or what we already have. However, this seems frightening for most people, so they prefer to stay on the hamster wheel.
Being busy is a defense mechanism. Having responsibilities, meetings, long to-do lists… Overwhelming ourselves can make us feel we are moving in the right direction, or at least in a direction. But, the constant rush against the clock to achieve a week’s schedule in a day can leave us stagnant, without creativity and motivation.
Instead of measuring the quantity of work, we should measure quality. Not just the quality of the output, as usually measured by externally-designed metrics, but the quality of the impact it has on our mental and physical well-being. “Did the work feel intellectually stimulating, did I learn something new, did it help me cultivate my curiosity, did it give me the opportunity to connect with interesting people?” are sensible questions to ask when work represents such a huge chunk of our lives.
Time is like a river. Always flowing. You cannot get hold of time twice. If you are too busy to attend that painting class, or too busy to play a board game with your family, or too busy to go on a hike, or too busy to start guitar lessons, or too busy to learn to dance, be sure that those moments will be gone — Now, instead of choosing not to do things, you will not be able to do things.
Next time you think of learning something new, or a friend asks you if you want to do something together or have a chat, and your automatic answer is: “I’m just too busy”, take a few minutes to actually consider whether you are actually too busy and if that’s the case, whether this busyness is more valuable to you in the long-term than learning something new or spending time with your friend.
Maybe you are going through a temporary phase, and that’s completely fine. We need to work hard for the projects we love. But, if that becomes your new reality. If the answer “I’m too busy right now.” becomes a habit, you should heavily if the excitement of working so hard has lasted for that much time.
Again, if you have so much excitement and motivation — lucky you. Being busy with exciting work is good. Being too busy to enjoy life is not.