Seriously... where has the summer gone?! I'm so busy, it's flown by!
There I said it. We’re busy. You’re busy. I’m busy. The whole world is busy. But is it good? What’s your busy all about? Have we as a society always been busy? Is this new, and has it come from the information age? Or is it “just life” and I’m now to the age where things are going faster than my slowing body and mind can keep up with? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. I don’t know, but I know we’re all so busy it consumes our descriptions of our lives to the point where whole conversations can be had about how busy we are.
Busy has been on my mind a lot lately, so has my newest book, another non-fiction. The two combined lend themselves to looking into busy facts. I’m not attempting to fix anything here, but I want to call it out. What are the facts of busyness? On second thought, are there any busy facts? Like, is there an Institute of Busy that gathers data on how busy society is and how it affects our lives, relationships and mental health. I can answer that. There is no Institute of Busy; I have Googled it. There are however a handful of insightful studies on busyness. You’re probably too busy, but if you have a sec, read on!
What even is busy anyway? According to an abstract I pulled off the National Library of Medicine, busyness is “the perception of the density of events and tasks to perform in one’s daily life.” So you get to quantify your busy and I get to quantify mine (but there is a questionnaire for it to make sure all busy is busy – I couldn’t find it but the abstract says it exists so it’s somewhere… maybe somewhere in HERE??).
There you have it, according to the super science-y experts busy is all about perception and, according to the abstract, not necessarily bad. The first sentence says busier people tended to perform better on thinking tasks than non busy counterparts. I find this especially interesting considering busy kinda makes me feel harried and out of sorts. A 2019 Harvard Business Review article by Brigid Schulte supports my “feelings” and warns that busyness can actually lead to burnout and lowered IQ!
For real! One article says busy can help you think better and another sites research stating too much to do dumbs you down.
Schulte’s article goes on to blame the corporate world for most of our busyness. She indictes the work culture of constant emails and 24/7 access to portals to do work for the feelings of busyness. Of course bosses and supervisors who do not take breaks perpetuate the busy cycle. Interestingly, this busyness doesn’t necessarily lead to better ideas or productivity for supervisor or worker bees. It leads to mental exhaustion, think hamster in the wheel. What’s worse, this busy, busy, busy mindset cultivates an affect known as tunneling. Tunneling occurs when one’s vision narrows. Too much work leads lends itself to a scarcity mindset... not enough time. When we think we’ll loose something, we’re absolutely right. We lose focus on the bigger picture and narrow down to saving what we might lose. As far as work goes, this doesn’t necessarily lead anyone to do the most important work, but just any work to try to get something done because everything always needs to be done right now and there’s never enough time! Schulte sites an article that reports tunneling is actually proven to lower IQ by up to 13 points. It’s interesting and while I agree busy tends to burn me out her arguments seemed very blame-y.
Personally, I can keep myself plenty busy outside of work as much as I’m ever busy at work. Which brings in the work-life balance and how do we ever achieve that?! Ohhhhh yeah! Retirement, unless you’re a retiree, because though they seem to be less busy than the younger generation, they’re still moving and shaking.
Ok so where are we at? Oh yeah, we’re all busy all the time. Ladies and those in their 30s and 40s tend to be the busiest but why? Why are we so stinkin’ busy all the time? I think my favorite answer for why came from, believe it or not, a wildlife management study on why their workers weren’t producing quality information. Evidently they were too busy to do good work! Yeah! Their study found four main reasons for lackluster output and all stemmed, somehow, from busyness. First, somewhere along the way busy had become a status symbol. Doing more, even if it was substandard, was better than less even with excellence. They found it could also be attributed to a lack of resources. Without proper tools, funding or staff one must do more to achieve the same result as could be achieved with proper resources. Interestingly, busy was also found to be a form of opposition. Busy might, just might, imply they don’t want to do what you want them to do because what they’re doing matters more to them. “Sorry, I’m so busy” might actually mean, “I don’t want to do your thing right right now. I’ll get to yours if there’s time, but gosh, I just don’t know if there will ever be time...” Finally they found busyness might be simply attributed to human nature itself. According to this wildlife study, we are pack animals. We need to fit in with our tribe. If everyone is busy, it’s prudent for oneself to be busy too. If one tends to be the alpha in the room, family or organization they must obviously be the busiest of them all, right?! So, we’re busy because everyone else is busy and if we’re not busy we may be perceived as a non-contributing part of the tribe and therefore at risk.
I buy into those four reasons. So what do we do about it, this busyness that is plaguing us? I found a few things we can do to curb busyness (if we don’t like feeling so busy) and came up with a few of my own. First of all, remember according to the extensive Google research I did ;) busyness isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Take some time to simply notice if busyness is a bad thing for you.
Right now. Close your eyes and think about your schedule, your days, your weeks and the density of activity in them… Come back in a minute or two for the rest of this. Seriously, STOP READING!
Do you feel energized by your busyness or exhausted? When someone asks how you are doing is your answer something like, “sigh I am so busy. I can’t catch my breath.” or “I don’t even know if I’m coming or going anymore.” If there is a negative ring to your thoughts or answers about your personal busyness. It might be time to put some of the anti-busy hacks below into play. If, on the other hand, busy feels fine to you, as far as my unscientific research uncovered, you do you Boo! (I would caution you to check-in with your people. Work and busy can turn into an addiction of sorts. The #1 step for addicts is to admit that their life has become unmanageable and they are powerless over their addiction. If your busyness is causing significant relational problems, I would challenge you to go back and re-notice how busyness is affecting your life and relationships.)
A simple way to make space in life is to allow the space when it opens up. Don’t fill in schedule holes anymore. I have a habit of replacing a canceled event with another. If a friend can’t make a lunch date, I tend to find someone else to invite. I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going to allow the space. Yes, there are a million other things I could do, but I can take the time alone where we intended lunch, or somewhere else and allow the space.
It goes without saying a calendar is a great schedule hack. Fill in your calendar with some free-time. Like canceled time, simply allow it. The challenge for me is I don’t know what to do with true free-time. I’m not much of a sitter. I’ll find something. What I like about this idea of free-time is I can make it whatever I want it to be. Need to clean out a cabinet? Great! I have the free-time to do it. Did a friend come into town unexpectedly? Great! I can invite her over for a cuppa something to sip on. The idea behind busyness is your perception of how full your day is. Even if you “fill” free-time with something, the idea that you had the time to spare can reduce the scarcity of time and calm your weary soul if busy is bothersome for you.
Take your breaks!! Do NOT work through your lunch break. Do NOT work through your 10 or 15 minute break. Take it. I suggest something other than mindlessly scrolling social media on work breaks too. Read a book. Call a friend or family member. Take your lunch to the park (or at least outside) and enjoy it there. Allowing this brief space at work will open the day to more than the density of the work you’ll never finish anyway.
This article on Simply & Fiercely has some more great hacks and tips. If you have a little more time you might want to read it. As for me I won’t take anymore of your time. May your busy be blessed not burdensome and life be lovely! <3 Lucy
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