America began to acknowledge its cultural obsession with “busyness” a few years ago when Tim Kreider wrote the highly stimulating piece, “The Busy Trap,” for the New York Times. Years later, while many of us admit modern societies are addicted to busyness, and there are sporadic mainstream conversations about it, we’ve grown accustomed to our “busy” ways and not much has changed. We are still so inclined to work, work, work that we almost feel guilty when we stop.
Many people still tell you how busy they are when you ask them how they are doing. It’s the default response: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” This standard response is, obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And yet, upon close inspection, you realize that though busy these people don’t seem to make any significant progress. You ask them why they don’t do the things they say they want to do and they always answer, “I’ve been busy.”
Busy doing what?
When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings? Being busy does not equal to making progress. Human beings need time for human-to-human interactions. We need time for sitting with the people we love and have slow conversations about the state of our hearts and souls. We need time for more meaningful conversations that are pregnant with pauses and silences that we are in no hurry to fill.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with how “busy” you are, and you don’t seem to make any headway, you need to slow down a bit. Our insistence on staying busy has damaging effects on our well-being: exhaustion, burnout, more stress and an inability to focus. Just stop being too damn busy.
Here are some ways you can use to avoid being so busy all the time.
1. Quit using the word “busy”
Words are powerful tools. What we repeatedly say and think gets etched in our minds and manifests in our actions. If you keep using the word “busy,” it becomes what you focus on, whether consciously or unconsciously. Cut the word “busy” out of your vocabulary today. Instead, find more positive and constructive ways to express a need for time.
For example, when people ask you how you are doing, you could say: “I’m making leaps and bounds over some obstacles, but making progress. How about you?” or simply, “I’m working on some exciting projects at the moment. How about you?”
2. Delegate, outsource or postpone extra work
It is one thing to say you are busy when you aren’t and another when you truly are busy. Sometimes we are indeed busy networking and meeting people, as well as running several projects and side hustles. You can have a lot going on, but it doesn’t mean you are going anywhere.
Examine your life and determine what you can cut out to increase your focus and time margins. You want to be great at a few things, rather than mediocre at many. Choose upto three things to focus on each day. Delegate, outsource or postpone the rest. This will help to de-clutter your life.
3. Say NO to a lot of things you want to do
The advice, “Learn to say no,” is such a cliché these days, and easy to assume it only means saying no to tedious, distracting, unfulfilling tasks and people. But, “the biggest, trickiest lesson,” author Elizabeth Gilbert says, “is learning how to say no to things you do want to do.”
There are many things you would want to do, but you need to learn to say no to so that you can focus on a handful of things that really matter. For example, you need to say “No” to work e-mails when you’re having quality time with your family in the evening after work.
In the modern rat race, radically limiting what we are ready and willing to get overwhelmed by may be our best bet of beating busyness.
4. Surround yourself with successful, like-minded people
Jim Ron correctly observed that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. The people we spend the most time with influence our thinking, self-esteem and decisions. They even influence our productivity and “busyness.”
If you surround yourself with people who view busyness as a status symbol—a sign that you in high demand and thus important—as most people do, it’s easy to default to a “busy” lifestyle in order to fit in.
Get rid of all the “busy” people in your life where possible and surrounded yourself with more successful people who share your views and values. People who are better than you will make you better. People who have contrary views and poor habits will drug you down with them.
5. Schedule time for rest and relaxation
Rest and relaxation are essential in our lives. When Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, sat on the bench – he rested. It did not matter if his team was down by 50 points and the team needed him, he rested.
He says he focused 100 percent on resting and relaxing during time out. He did not think about the shot he missed or the shots he would need to make when he got back out. Jordan valued his rest-time and made the most of it. He knew that making the most of his rest-time was the only way he would be at his optimal state when he got back into the game.
Jordan’s practice of mindfulness during resting can be applied to our lives. Set aside at least one day per week for rest and relaxation. Schedule it on your calendar, and guard it well. Similarly, find opportunities to relax throughout your day. For example, if there are activities that require you to step outside the office like getting colleagues a mid-day snack, volunteer to do it. It will allow you to take a break and get some fresh air. If you don’t get enough rest and relaxation, you will burnout and fail.
6. Unplug from technology
For many of us, the “privileged” ones, the boundaries between work and home have become blurred. We are on our devices. All. The. Freaking. Time. Laptops and smartphones mean that there is no division between the office and home. When the kids go to bed, we are back online, punching the keyboard late into the night. And the avalanche of e-mails never stops.
Shut off the computer already. Disconnect from the internet. Unplug from all the other gadgets and step away from work for a period of time every day. Take as many walking breaks as you can. Be alone with yourself and your thoughts. Examine your own heart; explore your soul.
You don’t have to be bogged down by the uncontrollable. The hundreds and hundreds of e-mails in your inbox can wait. Busy does not have to define you. Remember time is ripe to take back control of your life.