We are all busy.
Existence is a full-time gig; an all or nothing event. However, when did we (myself included) begin using the word BUSY as the predominant adjective for every single act. I am busy sleeping, eating, exercising, working, grocery shopping, spending time with friends, cleaning, errand running, getting ready, planning, living, breathing…I am so busy that I am busy telling people I am busy. Ever spewed or received one of these?
“This week is so busy.” (the definitive declaration)
“I have been so busy lately. Let’s catch up soon.” (the false hope)
“Everything is really busy for me right now.” (the not so temporary busy)
“I am so busy. I just don’t have the time.” (the excuse to stay stuck)
I have realized that it is time for myself to stop living as if I am continuously walking on a treadmill. Constantly thinking or stating how busy I am creates a self-perpetuating all consuming imaginary busy lifestyle. It is similar to the fight or flight conundrum; spiked adrenaline and instinctual reactions come in handy if one’s life is being threatened, but always living in overdrive is exhausting and unhealthy. Did I mention a fun zapper? I imagine that co-workers, friends, or family who are at the receiving end of busy statements get sick of them as well. And the busy syndrome seems to be contagious – soon enough your mom and best friend will be penciling you in for a lunch three weeks out.
Allow yourself ONE busy day per week. Plan out the must-dos including an agenda of doctors appointments, grocery shopping, paying bills, doing laundry, cleaning the house, making phone calls that you do not want to make, working on important projects, etc. Will other things come up during the week? Sure they will, but when they do you will feel empowered to determine if the event can wait for your next “busy day.” If it is something more immediate, such as you need to pick up steak for dinner tonight or this is the only time the doctor can see you, then it becomes a small blip in your schedule instead of adding on to the never-ending list of things keeping you busy this week. By compartmentalizing most must-do tasks into one day, you will not be allowed to tell everyone how busy you are if it is not your “busy day.”
Create an activity log, such as the one suggested on Mind Tools (an awesome website for time management and productivity), for a week. Mind Tools utilizes this more in the professional arena, but it is still applicable for your personal life. Write down everything you do each day and the time you spend doing it. We all have 168 hours in a week, and a good chunk of that, 90-110 hours at least, will probably be spent sleeping and working. So what are you doing with the other 60+ hours you have? A log is the best way to get a snapshot. Maybe there are menial tasks that you can turn from weekly to bi-weekly. Maybe instead of paying your bills as they come in, you switch to auto-drafts and check your bank account and pay the others on the 15th of each month. For example, I found I cleaned my apartment too often. I am somewhat of a perfectionist, so each week when I would straighten things up it turned into an all day event of deep cleaning…the bathroom, the kitchen floors, washing linens, etc. etc. I wanted to make more time for writing and acting, so I have since then dedicated ONE day (not four) of deep cleaning everything per month.
Set boundaries. I think sometimes we tell people we are busy because we really do not have eight hours to help a neighbor move on Saturday, so we jump to “I’m sorry, I’m swamped,” instead of offering an hour of two of time. I heard this piece of advice from a friend and it has helped me greatly in navigating how to respond to requests. Start to think about comfortable chunks of time doing one task. This is valuable even for your own personal goals. Maybe you want to take up guitar, but can’t imagine squeezing in fifteen hours of practice and lessons per week. However, could you fathom a one hour lesson and thirty minutes of practice before bed (3.5 hours) instead? Much more doable.
Expand your vocabulary and forgo using busy to describe everything. Busy is such a one-sided “blah” word. It sounds robotic and Merriam-Webster’s definition is: foolishly or intrusively active : meddling
When you start to describe what it is you are actually doing, you may find it is more enjoyable because your now thinking about it differently. For example:
busy with a luncheon > try > I am enjoying an afternoon with friends at a new Mexican restaurant.
busy working out > try > I am driving to the gym. Walking on the treadmill and listening to my favorite music always lifts my spirits and it feels great to move.
Start putting a positive spin on all your activities. You may begin to realize that your days are not full of meddling, rather a beautiful array of many activities that remind you just how wonderful it is to be alive.
The Village Voice: That Horrible “Crazy Busy” Syndrome by Michael Musto