Reflections on Being Very Busy

I write this post from a place of love and respect that we are all very unique and different creatures with very unique and different needs, preferences and modes of operation, and that this is a space of learning and sharing of ideas.

The topic of ‘being busy’ has been on my radar for a very long time. Busy, it seems to me, has become a very normal state to be in. When I first forayed into learning about minimalism, and simplifying the very complicated lives we often lead, one of the recurring themes of discussion in the blogosphere was about ‘busyness’ – the excess of, the expectation of, and the badge of honour of busyness. What struck me was that so much of what I read about seemed to point out the glaringly obvious – we are living in a very unique chapter of the human experience.

Our culture (or at least the culture I live in), promotes both obvious and subtle messages daily that ‘to be busy’ is the desirable state. I have both lived and observed this phenomenon and can attest that indeed, the clarion call to be busy has been (and some days still is) a subtle ‘hum’ in the background of my life. Think about it. What is the usual, automatic response that we all give each other when asked, “How are you?”. Yes, good, oh you know, busy.

A state of being busy is frequently correlated with your worth, your productivity and your overall ‘success’ as a human. Throw in the conditioning effects of information and technology, which re-inforce that we humans are such busy and important beings and to be anything other than busy means you are not doing enough, extending yourself enough, being ambitious enough, or really just living to your full potential, and constant busyness if a recipe for disaster. We are human beings, not human doings. Our mental and physical health will suffer, and for many of us I fear IS suffering, because we are not resting. We are too busy.

A points to clarify before we move on:

  • When I refer to being busy, I am not referring to the sporadic ‘bursts of busy’ in our lives. We are all called to increase our energy, time commitment, and focus on certain tasks during different chapters of our lives, which are absolutely required, but should have an expiry date at which point we can return to a state of calmer equilibrium.
  • What I am concerned about is the relentless state of ‘busy’ that creates urgency in our hearts and minds every single day, which follows us, poking us with a proverbial prod if we dare slow down, laying foundations for guilt, and prompting us to be constantly go-go-going.
  • We all have different personal energy and stress thresholds and what I refer to here is the busyness that pushes you beyond your individual threshold – the busyness that takes you from being in happy equilibrium to a place where you feel tired, disconnected, guilty, cranky, wired, and unable to settle or easily reach your inner equilibrium.

In my recent reflections, I have been interested to ponder not just the state of being busy, but the underlying mechanisms creating this excessive busyness for our society. I have found within myself that often one of the triggers for my excessive busyness has been a desire to prove (to myself? to others?) that I am working at my full potential. It has also been influenced very heavily by media, telling me that a weekend that is crammed full of events and activities is normal, and if you don’t do this then you are not adequately social, or don’t have enough friends and gosh, how weird is that. I also know that I am a malleable beast – naturally taking on the energy and trying to match the pace of those around me – which is how I have frequently ended up exhausted and irritable at the end of an excessively hectic day, or an excessively overscheduled weekend.

I do believe that the ‘why’ which underlines our busy-ness is complex and very personal, and all I would say on this is that I believe it is worth exploring within yourself what drives you to keep it up.

It is my honest belief that there are things in our lives, activities and tasks, which are required of us by circumstance and very dependent on the chapter we are in. I also very much believe that outside of those core commitments, those necessities, we have a great deal of choice and the absolute ability to influence how we spend our time. I believe we may tell ourselves and justify to others our excuses and reasons why we are busier than, or equally busy to, other people, and I believe there is often very complex underlying emotions that cause us to do this.

Yes – you may have a very demanding job, one or more small children to care for, ageing parents, be caring for others who require attention and time, have a new pet or a pet in general to care for, have demanding health requirements, have a loved one with demanding health requirements, all of the above, and the list of life circumstances could go on forever. It is undeniable that in different seasons, different demands will be made of your time and energy as part of a normal life.

What I am interested in though, is in not using these circumstances as a reason to justify your busyness. We unquestionably have a choice as to how we spend the remainder of our time. And we also have a choice in how complex we make our approach to our individual life circumstances – undeniably, increasing the complexity of our approach also increases the time and energy expenditure on those activities. Not everything can be prioritised. And if you look underneath that web of complex emotion that drives our behaviour, we probably don’t even want everything to be prioritised.

What I have started to reflect very seriously on is this –

  • What do I choose to do because it is vital to the wellbeing of myself and my family?
  • What do I choose to do because it is in line with my genuine interests and goals for the next chapters of my life?
  • What do I choose to do stemming from guilt?
  • What do I choose to do stemming from a desire to be seen as the perfect “insert life role here”?
  • What do I choose to do because I truly want to?
  • What do I choose to do because I am actually on autopilot, and I haven’t really thought intentionally about how I could or would want to spend this time and energy instead?

As in every iteration of my blogs, I would like to gently point out that we are all very human and all flawed in the most lovely, human way. I have been reflecting on busyness for over 12 months and still have days ending in feelings of exhaustion, overstimulation and a feeling of being very disconnected from myself and unable to settle the churning in my heart, body and mind. There is so much more to explore on this topic and I look forward to unpacking some of the ‘how’ of managing busyness in future blogs.

For now, like anything, change begins with awareness. I think it is time we all become quite brave and quite honest about how we are choosing to spend our time. And it is a choice. Life provides circumstances but there is no circumstance or situation that is absent of personal choice as to how we respond.

Until next time – simplify, focus, pursue and count your blessings.

Sarah x

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2 thoughts on “Reflections on Being Very Busy

  1. Love this Sarah, this has been my mantra for many years now. Forced not to be busy through health I had to unlearn habits and give myself permission just to be. I still find it difficult to not compare myself with others who seem to always be busy and recognise that it isn’t a reflection on my worth or even my productivity. I remember 20+ years ago working in a department store, Even when ithere were no customers we were told to “look busy”. I wonder if this is the mentality that is pervasive in society. Don’t ever be seen to stop. Even at work it’s in the stopping you get the creativity and new ideas. Love your writing Sarah.

    1. Hi Mandajp – thanks for your lovely feedback. I agree that even when we are conscious of slowing down, there are a lot of culturally reinforced messages that to slow down is to fail, or even be ‘self-indulgent’. I’m about to post a new article on 5 ways to slow down, watch this space! Take care, Sarah

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