The Problem With Being Busy

“So how are you? How’s business?”

“Busy! Very busy.”

That’s the main question that comes up for me when I see people I haven’t been with for awhile. We want to know how our time is being spent, and well, it’s spent being busy. I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of busy and what it means for all of us today. Turns out, the more I’ve thought about it and the more bits of information I’ve gleaned off other authors is that being busy really isn’t that great. For myself, I often find that I either say or think to myself after telling someone I’m “good, but busy”, is that I’m also stressed. Running my own small business allows me a freedom that many people lack in their careers. I can set my own schedule and keep my life how ever I want to as far as life-work balance. The problem come in when I realized how much money I wasn’t making by taking time off. I’d love to work part time but when I think about the income I’m not getting for my time, it’s hard. As adults, we have a preconceived notion ushered to us by cultural norms; it says we have to work and either buy things or work and save for retirement. I’m working and buying some things, but presently my retirement accounts aren’t going to get me very far.

So what does this mean for me? It means I work myself almost to exhaustion and then take a nice vacation every 3-4 months when I’m on the verge of utter burn out. Most people wouldn’t believe that my job could be so stressful. Likewise, the jobs other people do don’t seem too stressful from my vantage point. But think about it: we all get up super early in the morning, work 8+ hours, run home and make dinner or take the kids to whatever it is they do, and finally go to bed late at night. Wash, rinse, repeat. Our weekends are spent busily cramming in the things we want to do like watch the game, cook for the week, clean the house, mow the lawn, do laundry…the list is endless.

When’s the last time you just sat? And did nothing. NOTHING. When’s the last time your mind was still? QUIET. For me it had been a long time, so long that I had forgotten how to be still and quiet. The constant noise from busy covers up the hum we all carry around with ourselves every moment of the day. We stop listening to ourselves and our bodies and our dreams. Everything becomes about making the money to support the family and save for the future. The problem with being busy, I think, is that it means you are always living in the future. You have planned out what to eat and what time to pick up the kids and what time your show comes on. We’re always one step ahead of ourselves when we’re busy.

I remember reading an article about travel a few years ago, and what stuck out to me specifically was that this traveler recommended not to plan too much. They suggested to let things unfold as they will, and let the destination show itself to you. Our trip to Italy was about half planned and half wandering. Can you guess which part was the most enjoyable and gave me the best memories? We didn’t plan to take the train south to Sorrento, but it was one of my favorite times. We did plan all the lodging and train rides, and keeping on their schedule was sometimes maddening. My point is, When you over plan and over-busy yourself you don’t ever let whimsy or spontaneity catch up with you.

A friend calls you up and asks to have dinner or plan for a coffee date tomorrow morning. But we can’t. We are already busy. Our lives are so chaotic at the this point in history and I feel like wherever that came from, it’s now pushing itself into the next generation. I obviously don’t have kids, but when i hear friends talk about how their kid has soccer practice three times a week, and then has band practice 4 days a week at 7:00AM, and then has homework and family time and a sleep over…whatever happened to letting your kid go play in the dirt or watch a movie or eat a home cooked meal before 8PM? I remember when I was a kid we didn’t have so many things going on that we were exhausted. Today I get exhausted just hearing about the extra-curriculars these kids are doing. When are they allowed to be a kid? And when are we allowed to be adults?

I wonder how it happens: that one day you go from being a kid to being a grown-up with responsibilities and priorities. Now, neither of those are bad things at all, but when they run your entire life’s course, you end up laying on your death bed wishing you would have worked less and spent more time truly living. Haven’t we all heard about the dying people being asked about their biggest regrets? They always say they wish they wouldn’t have spent so much time at work or so much time being busy. They wish they would have spent more of their life truly living and truly loving their life.

For me, I find that being busy all the time sucks the happiness out of me. I’m tired and irritable, I stress eat and have restless sleep. My goal lately has been to slowly work myself into peaceful time. Maybe it’s reading a book (I’ve been through 4 in the past 2 months), doing yoga, baking, or watching something on Netflix. Quiet unproductive time has always been hard for me to process. I get bored easily and want to be going and doing and accomplishing. But who ever said reading a book wasn’t an accomplishment? Who said learning how to make Macaroons wasn’t productive? Who said sleeping in for another hour or taking a bath before bed was a waste of time?

I’ve been learning how to not carry the “busy stress” around with me at work all day. If a client is late, I take a deep breath and continue at a comfortable pace instead of getting worked up and angry. So far everything has been working itself out. I’ve also been spending my free time at work reading or cleaning in the shop instead of checking Facebook. The downtime between busy moments has made me feel more balanced in general.

Busyness is hard to understand. As I mentioned, we are almost programmed to be the most efficient people we can be, churning out the most we can in as little time as possible, never wasting a moment on idleness. We’ve seen, though, that this never produces true happiness. Even so we march on. Are you feeling the burden of stress and anxiety everyday? Maybe it’s time to evaluate your busy and see how it’s taken over your life, see how it’s smothered your joy and playfulness. Don’t we all want to be jovial and free-spirited? What if we could attain that in a balance between productivity and life? Would you want to live in that realm? I certainly would.

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