Too busy to…

blurred photo of woman riding moped through traffic

When we’re busy, we make choices about what to do and what not to do. We make a value judgment about what is worth squeezing into our day, and what we are just ‘too busy’ to get done. And for the to-do’s on the list that we choose not to do, we’re effectively saying “that’s not my priority right now”.

But, if we dig a little deeper beneath the endless list of tasks that don’t make the cut, what are we actually “too busy” to do?

Too busy to feel

Busyness can act as a distraction.  It is a description of what you have to do, but not a real acknowledgement of how you feel. 

Our recent blog on toxic busyness explores the social drivers of busyness.  Society values busy people. And when we are busy, we feel important and a member of the group.

So, consider what feelings might sit underneath the statement “I’m so busy”…

  • I feel scared.  The thought that we might not be valued socially is frightening.  Being an important member of our group is what keeps us safe.  Are you scared that you will not belong or be accepted, if you are not as busy as everyone else?
  • I feel inadequate.  One of the ways that we judge whether we will be accepted is by comparing ourselves and our achievements.  Are you worried that you will not measure up, if you’re not as busy as those around you?
  • I feel frustrated.  Our time and capacity is finite, so we have to make choices about what we do and do not do.  Are you frustrated by that need to choose, and the consequences of those choices?
  • I feel guilty.  The desire to please is also part of social acceptance.  Our finite time and capacity mean that we cannot please everyone all the time.  Are you feeling guilty about who you have and have not pleased?

These are all feelings that most people would say that they do not wish to have.  People might describe them as “negative” feelings.  But feelings are simply feelings.  They have a function.  They remind us what is important and motivate us to act.

Making ourselves busy is a way of trying to control our feelings.  But in the end it doesn’t serve us.  It doesn’t make those feelings go away. 

Busyness is a distraction. But the feelings fester and grow, feeding the spiral of busyness.

Too busy to connect

Busy-ness can act as a barrier.  It is like the busy signal when you phone someone who is already on another call. That ‘beep-beep-beep’ tone is the wall between you and the person that you wish to speak to.

When we have a conversation about how busy we are, we’re not connecting with each other.  We might be competing – “I’m more busy than you”.  Or we might just be like ships in the night, not even contacting each other through the hubbub of our respective busyness.

This lack of connection is damaging at many different levels:

  • At a personal level how connected are we to our own thoughts and feelings, our own desires and needs, our own lives?  Are we all just driving down the road of life on autopilot, not entirely sure where we are going or which route we are taking?
  • At an interpersonal level how connected are we to each other’s feelings, desires, needs and lives?  When we say “not now” or “I’m too busy”, do we really understand what that means to the other person?  
  • At a societal level how connected are we to groups and parts of society other than our immediate circle?  And what more could we create, build or simply be if our connections were broader and deeper?

“These divides create spaces that make it easy for us to misunderstand and be misunderstood. They produce contexts of silencing and silence.”

Paul Stoller

Busyness disconnects us from ourselves, our loved ones and our broader circles. And this makes us less aware of what is actually happening around us and less able to notice the impact of our busyness.

Too busy to do what matters

Busyness can act as a diversion. We forget to focus on what we want to do, becuase we are so busy doing what we have to get done.

Busyness is a trap.  It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Schulte describes it as a “busyness paradox”.  When we are busy, we panic. Our attention and focus narrows – a phenomenon called “tunneling”.  We reduce our concentration to only the most immediate tasks and spend our time dealing with what is in front of us. 

“If you’re in this firefighting state of time pressure and tunneling, you’re not making time to meet long-term goals. You’re not dealing with any of the root causes that led to the firefighting in the first place. Tunneling and busyness are mutually reinforcing. Focusing on short-term tasks makes you not make strategic plans, which causes you to be busy.”

Matthew Darling

Busyness diverts us from what matters most to us in our lives. We give less time to the people and activities that mean the most to us.  We act in ways that do not align to our true values.  And we make choices that do not align to our true passion or purpose in life.

A busy life? Or a full life?

So, what if we reframed busy-ness? What if we

  • leant into our feelings and used the information that they are giving us as a guide towards what we really want to be done? 
  • listened deeply to ourselves, our loved ones and those in our communities and thought about the ripples of our impact?
  • focused on what matters to us and made choices aligned to our values, passion and purpose?

What if we found a way to live a full life?

A full life could be busy.  But we would also be present and aware.  We would connect to the people that we love. And we would focus on what matters.

What would it take for you to let go of your busyness, and live a full life instead?

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