We all know the feeling – the one that starts when the alarm goes off in the morning and doesn’t stop until we close our eyes at night. The gnawing, gut-wrenching feeling that no matter how hard we try, we’ll never get it done. No matter how efficiently we work, we’ll never actually feel like we can rest. For many of us, it’s even come to define who and how we are.
Hey, how’re you doing?
I’m good – just sooo busy.
Busy. We complain about it constantly, and yet wear it like a badge of honor. We skip lunches and vacations, skimp on sleep and exercise, and lose contact with our friends – all in the name of being busy.
Through my work with women, I’ve come to believe that the vast majority of us are missing the mark significantly when it comes to the way we think about busyness. Our lives are fast-paced and we all wear many different hats in the course of the day. Our phones and computers buzz and beep and ping with all the demands for our time and attention. But ask us to ignore those demands, or even to set reasonable boundaries around them, and many of us will adamantly refuse. “I can’t – what if I miss something important?”
We cling to the idea that busy gets us something, even though most of us instinctively know better. But why? What drives our obsession with being and feeling busy? I believe we are telling ourselves three important lies that keep us trapped on the hamster wheel we all claim to hate.
We Can’t Do Anything About It
Talk to someone about how busy they are and you are likely to get the idea that they have absolutely no power over their situation. It’s as if busy is a disease that we have all magically contracted somewhere along the way.
The truth is far different. Our jam-packed lives are not something that just happens to us – it is something we actively allow in our lives. We continue to overcommit, overschedule and overwork no matter the consequences. Then, we refuse to take responsibility for these choices by blaming it on modern life, all our electronic gadgets, and kids’ schedules that have us hopping around the clock. The result is that we end up feeling trapped in our own lives.
But what if we made different choices? What if we were honest about our needs for rest, recreation, exercise and (gasp) idle time? What if we made intentional decisions about the things we allowed to take up our time, and how much time we were willing to give to them?
It Means We Are Getting Things Done
Too many of us confuse being or feeling busy, with productivity. We believe that if we rush around, constantly moving, we are getting things done. Never mind whether those are the right things, or whether we are making the best use of our time. Busy equals productive, period.
In reality, however, most of us are more productive when we allow adequate time for rest, sleep, and exercise. In fact, numerous studies have supported that sleeping longer at night, or even taking a short nap during the day, can boost productivity. Put simply, you can perform more efficiently and make better decisions when you are not stretched to your limits.
It Means We’re Successful
Busyness doesn’t just mean we are productive – it has also come to symbolize our own success. If we are always busy, we seem to subconsciously think people will assume our jobs are demanding, and therefore, important. Our businesses will be assumed to be thriving. Our social lives are full of volunteer opportunities, loads of friends, and perfect pictures for social media.
But busy doesn’t mean successful. In fact, some of the most successful people in the world have realized that their success is fueled by their times of rest and recreation. It is in these times of relaxation that they find their inspiration, feed their creativity, and build their stamina for their work.
As Henry David Thoreau once said, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” If your life has become a whirlwind of activity, and you find yourself feeling like a hamster trapped on a wheel, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself that very same question. What are you busy about? Does it create the results you want in your life? Does what you’re doing give you joy, or build toward the legacy you want to leave? If not, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate how you spend your time. After all, it’s the only resource you can’t get more of.
We aren’t likely to kick the busyness habit overnight. It takes time to weed through our schedules and commitments and begin to let go of the things that don’t really serve us. But, it’s an endeavor that is worthwhile. And we can start by simply being honest with ourselves.