The Human Condition: Busy

There isn’t a person I’ve spoken with in the past six months who hasn’t made some comment about being busy.

Busy at work, at home, in the garden, in the community, running around after family and sometimes busy doing all of the above (and more).

Busy does not discriminate by age, occupation nor postcode. It just seems to be an ailment of modern life that we willingly embrace and (at times) wear as a badge of accomplishment.

Quite frankly, busy for me is a sign of inefficiency, of poor delegation and limited boundaries. Busy is a convenient place to be when avoiding other, perhaps more pressing or difficult things to otherwise consider. Busy is the taskmaster that starts nagging in the wee hours and keeps the motor running as the sun sets. Busy tells us there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get the work done so we keep on going, and going, and going.

Busy is not a healthy, nor sustainable state.

Sure, at times busy is unavoidable – as a business grows and the revenue catches up, in a period of learning, a time of change, as a season prevails. But the trick is to remember those times are temporary and not to adopt them as the new normal because this temporary kind of busy is the gateway drug to ongoing bad habits and I can quite honestly admit I’ve taken to busy with the gusto of a drug addict to meth.

Despite my adoption of ‘busy’ I don’t wear it as a badge of honour. While I’m not shy of hard work I do not regard busy as proof of it. And I’m very, very aware that busy is the stimulus to a bad mood, poor health and inefficiency.

Imagine for a moment that ‘busy’ in the name of a particularly exuberant associate. You thrive on the energy of this person and willingly run alongside them at every moment darting from idea to project to interaction to activity. Eventually ‘busy’ becomes a bit tiresome for you however ‘busy’ is relentless. You begin to resent ‘busy’ and start to feel jaded about the activities that were once fun. You close your eyes (or turn to television, alcohol or other pursuits) just to avoid ‘busy’ and before you know it every waking moment is filled with the pursuit of closing ‘busy’ down. You start babbling about a new person you’ve noticed but not as yet met called ‘work-life balance’ however you find yourself so busy controlling ‘busy’ that you just can’t find the time to get out and find the time to nurture your new friendship deciding instead it’s just easier to keep ‘busy’ happy rather than step into a new and potentially untenable situation.

So how does one step off the busy train and bring back a healthier mindset?

  1. STOP. Yes. Stop. Yes you can. You may shake a little at first, you may feel a sense of dread about the things that you were going to achieve that weekend that will now pile onto your Monday desk. Stopping is good for you, even if it feels like crap at the time. It gives you the desire to keep going and somehow conveys logic back into an otherwise messy situation created via an overdose of busy. Maybe you cannot stop right now but grab your diary and set a date for it – and most importantly, stick to it.
  2. REST. So you spend a day in front of the TV, actually read the Sunday papers, take your dogs for a walk or just hang out with the kids. Resting doesn’t mean getting all of those other jobs done that you’ve been avoiding, it doesn’t mean planning your next renovation or tidying up your budget. It doesn’t even necessarily mean catching up with the hoards of people you haven’t seen and have been feeling guilty about seemingly ignoring. Resting is just doing that thing that makes you feel like all of those ‘busy’ thoughts can just pause for a moment. Resting is respecting yourself.
  3. PLAN. Busy often comes about because your plan isn’t solid enough leaving gaps for spontaneous activity. Yeah OK I’m not the kind of person who cannot live without those gaps either, however – this bit I know for sure. When I don’t properly define the baseline tasks (i.e. what MUST be done, then what I’d LIKE to be done) be that for a work or life activity I will always, without fail get distracted and add, add, add to my task list. The original plan be it annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly or even daily assists a realistic scope of what can be done.
  4. CHECK IN. My friend Rosemary Shapiro-Liu suggests a weekly meeting with self, that’s a great time to check in on your plan. I know, without fail that when I’m diligently doing this there is more time for productivity and less time for busy during my week.
  5. PRIORITISE YOUR HEALTH. For some odd reason that I cannot quite understand when I’m busy the first thing to scoot out the door is my willingness to nurture my health. I write reports in the morning instead of taking a walk, I eat crap and wash the crap down with wine, I avoid people that nurture me and then I wonder why I feel terrible and blame it on busy. Life is always better when I walk in the morning, minimise alcohol and fatty food and  make time for good friends.
  6. HAVE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS. People will treat you the way you teach them to so if you’re always the person that’s going to pick up the slack, you WILL always be the person that picks up the slack. If you ALWAYS meet every single whim, question and demand of others… I think you know what expectation you are setting. Sit that person down and have the difficult conversation. Fear loss of your job or a friendship? I’ll tell you right here and now – if setting healthy boundaries, and having conversations about them puts your job or friendship at risk it may not be the right place for you.
  7. ENABLE OTHERS TO SELF-DETERMINE. I will always choose job roles that involve helping other people and ironically I realise this will mean people will always approach me for help. Some time ago I made a decision about who I WOULD and who I COULD NOT (note not would not) help. It’s so simple. Many, many people approach me because they just want me to get something done for them be it a grant application, solution to a community problem or some other random thing. My decision was to help people that (a) genuinely wanted the change that the assistance would bring (b) were willing to put some skin in the game. Now I don’t mean cash here necessarily, I mean they are prepared to compose that email, make that phone call, attend that workshop or listen to that podcast. Sure, my recommendations about pathways aren’t always perfect however I know for sure that if someone cannot solve their own issues after I’ve left the table there was no point in me assisting in the first place.
  8. SET UP THE RIGHT HANDBALL TEAM. You need the right people to delegate to. Those who are skilled, willing and maybe even delighted to share your load – they may or may not be employees, once you can identify the things to delegate you’ll be surprised who will bob up in your cornflakes (thanks for that gold saying to my Chairperson John O’Neill).
  9. AVOID PETTY HUMAN BEHAVIOUR. There is this ugly human trait that I call the ‘favour economy’ that dictates a balance of what I owe you and what you owe me according to the distribution of effort in the delivery of favours. This effort is somehow measured by our ability to give and an invisible tally is clocked up on an invisible scoreboard and drawn upon during an unforeseen moment in time. I call BS on this, as my friend David Wentworth often tells me ‘it’s all an exchange of energy’ i.e. When I support someone they are then (in theory) more able to support someone else. The universe looks after the rest. You can consider this as hippy-dippy as you like but the fact remains – if you are offering to do something to help someone out, and you do it expecting something in return you’ve missed the point. If you are hanging with humans that are constantly reminding you of those things they did for you back in 1986 you may need to seek out a more evolved version of the species with which to spend your time.
  10. FIND THAT THING YOU LOVE TO DO. What is it that you love to do that’s not defined as ‘work’ ? Perhaps it is hanging in the garden, hiking, traveling, shopping, being pampered, glass blowing – whatever it is grab it with both hands and DO IT. I’ve recently been rekindling my love of singing and oh boy does that music feel good in my body. I look forward to my lessons and while a recent performance terrified me it was oh, so exhilarating.  Writing is my other go to and if you’ve made it to this point in the story I’d like to thank you, sincerely for indulging me.

Now it’s time for us both to get busy about stopping busy…

Photo by mauro mora on Unsplash

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