My friend Amy recently declared she is eliminating the following sentence from her daily routine: “I’m soooo busy!” She wants to do this because she realizes that she repeated the complaint every day, multiple times a day. I’m pretty sure she’s also caught herself uttering things like, “This day has been insane,” or “Can this day get any crazier??” and even, “I’m exhausted.”
What a brilliant idea and a great exercise in self-awareness. Isn’t it time to take “busy” off of its pedestal? Because what are we really saying when we complain, out loud, that our lives are filled to the brim with tasks and responsibilities? Maybe it’s that we matter, we are so needed that there’s not enough of us to go around, and that we are important.
Okay. It’s nice to be needed and great to be valuable to your job, your family, your community. But we can accomplish many of these same things without the whirling dervish imagery.
Let’s be honest here. When we use words to describe our lives beginning with ‘busy’ and moving up the scale toward ‘hectic,’ ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘crazy,’ we aren’t painting a very pretty picture. In fact, by using heightened vocabulary we are adding another layer of stress to our day. Because even if our to-do list has been pretty manageable today, it’s almost a reflex to rate our day in terms of how productive we’ve been. The busier the better for many of us.
What if we could be happier and equally or more effective doing less? Here are a few thoughts on how we can make this happen.
- Let’s start with an awareness that busy isn’t necessarily better. Think of one or two people who you truly admire. Really…call them to mind… Do they run around like chickens with their heads cut off? Chances are they appear calm and in control while leading meaningful lives. It’s not just because they have an assistant to do the grunt work, it’s more likely they understand the heavy price of being too busy.
- The second step is to take a close look at your priorities. Your list may include nurturing your children, expanding your business, worshipping, meditating, volunteering for a cause dear to you, creating beautiful things, earning more money, or training for a marathon. What’s important here is that you get a clear handle on what matters most in your life. Focus time and energy on those top several items, and then let the other things fall away or at least assume their appropriate place in your life.
- The third strategy is very simple. Learn to say no. Once you’ve established your priorities, this becomes MUCH easier. Try it. It’s amazingly freeing.
- And finally, the last step to lessen overwhelm and stress in mindfulness. As you tackle the inevitable tasks throughout your day, focus on what you’re doing in this moment. Banish thoughts of what else is on your list. Get this done and do it well before you allow your mind to jump ahead. Multitasking doesn’t work. And wouldn’t you rather end your day knowing you kicked butt on the four things you did, rather than doing a passable job on the complete to-do list?
Retrain your brain, reframe your thinking, revisit your priorities, and banish the busy!
The New York Times, The ‘Busy’ Trap. June 30, 2012. by Tim Kreider.
Huffington Post, Let’s Stop the Glorification of Busy, March 23, 2014. by Guy Kawasaki.