Breaking free from being busy

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” – Socrates

Once upon a time I thought my self-worth was rooted in how busy I was.

If I was busy, I was valuable. Therefore my time (and I) were worthwhile. Any threats to my busyness – a vacant day in the diary or no foreseeable plans – made my foundations tremble.

I never said no because being busy somehow authenticated my existence and made me feel wanted. Back then, I had bags of nervous energy and being busy supplied the outlet.

I wasn’t looking after myself though and carried on in this frenetic fashion until I came to a grinding, shuddering halt.

We all talk about being busy a lot. ‘How are things?’ ‘Busy,’ ‘hectic’, ‘snowed under.’ Take a friend of mine, as an example. I love this woman but she’s constantly on the go: tasks, activities and jobs she’s simply *got* to do. She’ll say things like “I’ve not stopped” and “I’ve not had time to think I’ve been so busy” or “I’ll be happier when this is over.” In the next breath there’s talk of future plans or where she needs to be on such-and-such a day.

We use the b-word like a badge of honour pinned over the stain of a whinge. As if relentlessly bustling about (and then talking about it) somehow makes us more important or accomplished or interesting. I call it busy-bragging, or busy-boasting.

I recognise the shadow of my former self in my friend; packing days to the limit and filling those to come. It strikes me that, back then, I didn’t know what to do with myself and could not appreciate being still and in the present. Because stopping would mean falling apart.

Being busy created a sense of validation, not happiness. Burnout provided me with the clarity I needed and wanted to become happy.

I understand we enjoy being on the go and it’s good to be engaged in what you do but general busyness for the sake of it often masks a deeper discomfort as well as crowded calendars and crowded minds.

I get it: it’s easy to be dragged in. But here is what I am learning: NOT being busy doesn’t make you worthless, any less valued or authenticated in any way. I talked elsewhere about just being and I try to live by it although it’s not perfect – far from it. As with many things, it (and me) is a work in progress.

But slowing down, being in the moment and exchanging the busyness barometer for currency that offers greater satisfaction and balance will keep you sane. Check out Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize winner psychologist Daniel Kahneman which offers a fascinating insight into how our minds work and how we make decisions.

By jettisoning what doesn’t matter you create time for what does. For me it contributes to my sobriety and motivated me to set up this blog so I can share experiences with you. More recently I came off Twitter on the account I was idling time (although I have to say, I don’t miss the white noise or divisive arguments masquerading as debate).

Don’t confuse slowing down with doing less: adopting an assiduous approach is about being more efficient, focused and better able to perform to the best of your ability both personally and professionally.

Being busy doesn’t signify progress, nor does it represent productivity. Both of those are about doing the right things, not all the things.

Imagine you’re on your death-bed, reflecting on your life. What do you feel? You’ll no doubt want to be cocooned in fuzzy contentment; warm with satisfaction and fulfilled from happy days well spent. I bet you won’t fondly recall the drudgery of multitask management.

Be honest. Ask yourself: what’s important? Are you busy with the right things? Do you want to be? Can you step back from the glorification of busy-bragging and instead devote energy to what really matters? What action will ignite the flames of your passion and take you towards greater achievements and satisfaction?

Being busy is a choice. It’s not a status symbol or a winnable contest. It’s well documented happiness leads to success not vice versa, so is it not better to feel a burst of pride from the positive results of your actions, not in your ability to strike out everything on your to-do list?

You have reservoirs of awesomeness inside you with the power to make your dreams come true.

You can be less busy if you choose to be. The expanse is before you and the ground beneath your feet fertile. Don’t leave it barren – fill it with the fruits of your labour.

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” – Ovid

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I'm a writer, journalist and communications officer based in the South West of England. I write about wellbeing, the outdoors and life in a rural playground.

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