In Spaces Between

Declaring War on The Busy Epidemic

We’re going to get down and dirty straight off the mark today with a few truth bombs about busyness.

Busyness is self-serving.

 

You rock up late (again) for a catch up with your best friend. You’ve cancelled the last two times so it’s a miracle you even made it this time. She’s lucky to have your attention – with everything you’ve got on your plate at the moment coffee seems like a luxury, but anyway, you’ll have to duck off early, you explain, because you’ve got a list of Very Important Things to get through before the day is out.

At this point, what do you reckon she’s thinking?

“I’d kill to be that busy! Look at her, all frazzled and frantic-like, and would you check out that to-do list. Wooooweee, that thing is full. Totes jealous!”

Not likely.

More likely:

1. The blunt version: Who cares. We’re all freaking busy.

2. The crushing version: Seems like I’m a burden on [insert your name’s] time – just another task that’s been slotted into her over-scheduled life. Time to pull away for a bit.

Eek. Pretty sure none of us want to leave our loved ones feeling like that, but there’s a chance we already have. Many times over. Like Socrates said: “Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.”

Busyness is a cop-out.

 

Busy has become synonymous with avoidance – a culturally polite way of saying no. The use of busyness as an excuse for not getting back to someone, or reneging on a commitment, is almost an epidemic in itself but it doesn’t mean it’s any less frustrating when you’re on the receiving end.

Busyness is also a magnificent way of avoiding the things we don’t want to face. When you pay attention to the times you say you’re too busy, you just might find that those are the times you’re up against something that’s making you uncomfortable.

Ask yourself: what am I running from?

Busyness makes you the victim.

 

Have you ever noticed how we refer to busyness like it’s something beyond our control? Like we’re the victims of this external force that renders us so helpless we have no choice but to give away our power?

“I wish I wasn’t so busy,” we whine.

Let’s be honest: you don’t have to be. Re-adjust and revaluate. There’s nothing impressive about martyrdom.

Busyness is arrogant.

 

Get truthful for a moment? Does saying you’re “too busy” make you feel important? Even just a teensy bit?

The undertone of “I’m sooooo busy” is boastful and seeped in approval – a badge of honour to wear proudly when insecurity tells you that you need something to justify the way you’re spending your days.

+ “How was work honey?” “Busy, ridiculously busy, I’m exhaaaaaaaaaausted.” (also known as I do lots, therefore I am)

+ “Sorry I didn’t get back to you last week – I was so busy!” (also known as You weren’t a priority)

+ “Actually, I can’t make it tonight sorry, super busy, story of my life!” (also known as My life is more important than yours)

And here’s the kicker: we’re reluctant to let go of being “too busy” because our identity is so wrapped up in this busyness that we don’t know who to be without it. Ouch.

Sure-Fire Cures For Chronic Busyness

 

1. Busy or overwhelmed? Make the distinction. 

There’s a big difference in being busy and being completely under the pump.

When I’m passionately engaged in something, doing work that energises me, I find busy is my sweet spot. I thrive on it. If you’re anything like me, you’re always more productive when you have lots on the go, but the tasks need to be manageable and the expectations around when those tasks have to be finished need to be realistic. We all know what enough means to us and what too much feels like and that yardstick moves depending on our personality types and the kind of work we’re doing.

By definition, busy means being actively and attentively engaged in work or a pastime. 

But what about feeling too busy or overwhelmed? Sucker-punched by stress? This is where things speed up, heads spin, chaos reigns supreme, desperation kicks in and we want to go foetal. We go from having lots on our to-do list to a state of being overpowered or overcome in mind or in feeling. 

Personally, I find this happens to me when too many extra demands are placed on me – sometimes through pressure I place on myself, but mostly through external circumstances. I’ve created a busy life for myself with things I like doing and that are relevant to this part of my life (my job and relationships are necessities, my blog is a passion, and my wedding is something that is making me busier temporarily) but it’s when extra things get thrown into the mix (last minute work projects with tight deadlines, late nights that keep me away from doing the aforementioned stuff) I feel stress start to claw it’s way into my life.

Which leads me to…

2. Learn what to say yes and no to.

Priorities, priorities, priorities. Evaluate whether your busyness is momentary or whether it’s something that’s impacting your happiness long-term.

Start uttering that powerful two-letter word more often. Saying no doesn’t have to be negative – it says that you value the work/ person too much to put in a less than stellar effort.

3. More often than not, busy is a choice. 

The choice to make our lives so full lies with us. There’s nothing empowering about shrugging our shoulders and moaning about being at the mercy of our to-do list/ inbox/ Twitter/ Facebook.

Worse still, this then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – we think we’re stuck in this tumultuous existence where there are never enough hours in the day to do what we need to do, and so there aren’t (being overly busy is also a wonderful way to get nothing done at all – have you noticed that?)

Hone in on what’s important by making a list of the three non-negotiable tasks you need to get done on any given day and pull back from the rest. Know your limits.

4. Be mindful of your words.

Be aware of your energy when you find the words “I’m too/so busy” rolling off your tongue. Often, just talking about how busy you are can amplify the feeling, and instead of making you look in control and able to juggle a million tasks with aplomb, it can make you sound frantic and frazzled – the complete opposite of a person in control.

Busy is an interpretation. You can choose to see it negatively, as something that depletes you, or you can tell the world you’re energised, productive and grateful to be living a life full of experience and opportunity.

Choose your words wisely and take the power back. Busy is a choice. Own it.

Parting words

When it comes to busyness, I’m certainly not immune to lamenting how much I have going on in my life and it’s something I’m working on changing for good.

I’m making a conscious effort to limit the use of “too busy” in my vocabulary and paying attention to when I use it and how it makes me feel, which is really insightful. There’s an emotional response when you talk about being stressed or overwhelmed – it’s like your heart starts racing a bit faster and adrenalin kicks in, which we all know isn’t a good thing! Time to let go of that story. Life is only overwhelming if we allow it to be.

+ How about you? Do you catch yourself talking about how hectic your life is, or find it hard to slow down and relax? What do you do to combat the feeling of being “too busy?”

Images: 1. Jon Horton 2. Adorable Life

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25 Responses to “Declaring War on The Busy Epidemic”

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  1. Love this post. Particularly the bit about ‘busy is an interpretation’. When I first started my career, I used to think the people who came in at 7 and left at midnight and complained the whole time about how they were ‘sooooo busy’ were really important and aspired to be like them. Now I realise it’s about being efficient, healthy and not simply making work for yourself by doing busy work. I’m now trying to only do what’s important to me. Being busy for the sake of it is really overrated.

    Love it as usual Rach! xx

  2. Sian says:

    You nailed this Rach! I’ve been thinking about the same thing… I saw the post by White Hot Truth about ditching the word ‘overwhelmed’ from your vocabulary too.
    I’m the same as you, I work better when I’ve got heaps on the go, as long as it’s all managed properly. When I’m working on all kinds of different creative projects at once, it’s what I love.

    But I think it’s important to be aware of how/where you throw around the ‘sorry I’ve been so busy’ thing, after all you do choose everything that is on your plate, it’s up to you to manage it and thrive off it, rather than let these words drag you down.

    You’ve defs got me thinking! xx

  3. jazziefizzle says:

    Ah I have heard those words come out of my mouth so many times this year it is not funny… But as much as you have control over how ‘busy’ you are, I find it quite difficult sometimes to explain to people exactly how much time and energy I spend on my uni course. Sometimes is tis just easier to say ‘I’m so busy’, so that people understand why I cant just go and lunch with the ladies or out for dinner on a weeknight with very little notice.

    I’m sure it does come across as a bit of a cop out, so I will definitely pay more attention to when I say how busy I am and see what I can do to change it. Great post as usual!!

  4. Hear hear. I actually now schedule time in my diary to do nothing, to book no social outings. That way my husband and I always have some time to chill and recharge. It’s been so easy for us to have our diary full of up to three social commitments on a weekend day and many nights a week, that it’s taken this conscious decision to put a cap on it all. The beauty of it is that when someone spontaneously suggests something we can now say yes! I have a friend who cannot manage her time or pick her commitments and as a result is always late, always half present at events because she’s texting to plan the next one and constantly getting sick. It makes me sad that she is missing so much by trying to do everything.

  5. Kylie says:

    Great post, Rach! I need to be reminded of this sometimes – so thankyou!

  6. Rach - In Spaces Between says:

    Sweet Lime Ladies! I know exactly what you mean – busy has almost become a status symbol, and just because someone is busy doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being effective. Most of the people I know that are in high-powered roles (CEO’s etc) never complain about being busy. They just get the job done. Go figure! xx

    Sian: Danielle LaPorte ALWAYS nails it with her posts, loved her thoughts on the topic. It’s totally about perspective isn’t it — there’s nothing more rewarding than getting lots done and getting in the “flow” (that sweet spot where you lose all track of time because you’re so into what you’re doing). The best! xx

    Jas: I agree with this wholeheartedly, and sometimes it’s easier to use the blanket “I’m busy” when you don’t have the time (or inclination) to go into things in more detail. I often get the guilts when I pull the “can’t sorry, I’m working on my blog all day” excuse when I can’t make to something but I think explaining to people what my priorities are and why I’m making time for this thing that eats into my spare time has helped.

    It’s nice to still be asked though (flattering to know your presence is desired at all these fun social events!) but there also has to be a balance. You might NOT actually be busy when they ask sometimes, but since you have been so busy you might just want a relaxing night in. Tell them you’re taking some “you” time now so you can be more “you” next time you’re free to play! xx

    Lucent: Such a great idea and something we should ALL be doing. We make so much time for other people/ work/ everything else in our lives and often forget that when things are off-kilter personally, we’re not really being effective in these other areas anyway. Reading the last part of your comment, the message I’m getting loud and clear is BE PRESENT. Thanks for the reminder! xx

    Kylie and Steph: Thanks ladies, glad you enjoyed the post, I loved writing this one because it’s something I really need to focus on too! xx

  7. Katherine says:

    Spot on! You rock, lady.

  8. Wonderful, wonderful post Rach. Extremely well written and such a great message.

    Being a completely Type-A, perfectionist nut job I find it so hard to cope when things get out of control; and this post is a perfect reminder that it really is all about priorities – that all of our lives get out of control at some point in time or another; and we just have to remember to breathe and carry on.

    I agree that hiding behind ‘busy-ness’ is just plain rude. I think some people, especially introverts, do need some time off from their social calendars to re-boot. However if you commit to something you do it with full enthusiasm. There’s nothing worse than taking time out of your day to meet up with someone who then takes work calls, texts, or leaves early on you. Ugh!

    Fab post x

  9. Rach - In Spaces Between says:

    Thanks Katherine! xx

    And Serena, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment.

    When we’re super busy we’re often looking inwards and forget that OUR busyness rubs off on the people around us (and not in a good way).

    I’ve been that busy person and I’ve also been on the receiving end many times. Thing is, I always notice that when someone is distracted and breathlessly telling me how much they need to get done with a look of sheer panic in their eyes, I start feeling slightly panicked too. I certainly don’t want to be the person inflicting that feeling on my friends/ family!

    I’m working on eliminating “busy” as my default response so when people ask me how I’ve been I want to tell them I’ve been awesome, doing lots of things that fulfill me and make me feel alive and energised. New words before the New Year. Let’s get out of control together, hey! xx

  10. Sara says:

    Rach!! I confess I am a total over-user of this horrid word and after reading your post i am going to do everything in my power to quit this silly addiction!
    Recently i have been very busy! ha ha. NO – i’ve been under the pump at work and being putting in lots of extra hours and feeling like i have no where near enough hours in the week to do every other thing (non-work stuff) i need to….
    Most nights when i get home from work, the man and I ask each other about our days and there have been a few times where he hasn’t asked me… I’m like “why haven’t you asked how my day was?” He says cause i know the answer – “BUSY”.
    sigh….
    it is sooo true and it has recently made me aware of that nasty 4-letter word and how much i have been over using it.
    I am going to take your tip on board of the list of 3-non negotiable tasks and see how that goes, i can already feel that is going to help me get through things i’ve just been wanting to do forever.

    A good friend of mine recently highlighted something to me which i have taken on board too. There is no excuse or reason to say ‘i don’t have the time!’ instead you should be honest with yourself and instead say ‘ I haven’t made the time’. This is soo true and applies to lots of other statements we always blurt out.

    Anyway Rach, thanks for another great post, i am becoming a better person everyday with your lovely advise! x x

  11. Kylie Kaljo says:

    It’s scary how true this all is. Makes you really think. Xxx

  12. Rach - In Spaces Between says:

    Sara: It’s sad but true isn’t it — “I don’t have the time” usually does mean “I’m not prepared to make the time.” And it’s so funny how that busy word can roll off our tongues – I’ve had to stop myself a few times in the past week when I’ve gone to say “I’ve been great, busy, but great.” Now it’s just GREAT. :) xx

    Kylie: Thank you! xx

  13. Yes – busyness is an overused excuse and it IS frustrating! I find this behaviour particularly acute in young people (or not so young among my post-PhD friends) who have entered the real world work force for the first time. All of a sudden they’re overwhelmed by having so little personal time during the week, and they feel sorry for themselves too as they look down the barrel of so many decades of 9-5 (or, realistically 8-8 in today’s office place!) The thing is, all the ranting about how busy they are comes with an unsaid message – that they are busier that YOU, that they work harder than YOU, that they deserve more than YOU and that YOU should work much harder to accommodate THEM. It’s also often around this time in life that men who were previously enlightened, modern members of society begin treating their female partners like housewives of yore, expecting them to pick up the slack for all the meanial household chores they’re now to busy to help perform… yes Rach… you’ve got me going now… this is an excellent topic and one that opens up a lot of interesting points we tend not to consciously consider without reminders.

    Catherine @ The Spring

    http://www.thesprinblog.com

  14. Liz says:

    Agree with everyone’s comments here, a very real and interesting topic Rach (as usual!!) I think everyone is in the same boat on this one, we are all a little guilty. in today’s society we’re getting more and more ‘busy’ and it seems to be the word/excuse/justification of the decade, becoming extremely overused and has little value or real meaning anymore…. if someone said they weren’t busy i think I’d be shocked. I totally agree with needing to maintain that level of activity where you’re at your best and most productive, but it is a fine line which can easily over-balance into craziness. I suppose it’s at that moment we need to be aware and take control of our lives. Thanks for a great read this morning lovely! I’m definitely going to make an effort to shift things in this department. xxxxx

  15. Oh Rach, you are wise beyond your years doll!

    Love this post and identify with all of it (except that I run myself ragged on weekends trying to catch up with friends so that I’m not “that girl that’s too busy to see her friends”, but boy is it exhausting!

    You’re completely right that just saying we’re busy and whining about it makes it all seem so much more overwhelming. I am going to make a point of eliminating it from conversation from now on.

    Still working on the whole ‘saying no’ thing – it’s a work in progress! ;)

    xxx

  16. Rach - In Spaces Between says:

    Awesome comment Catherine, apologies for the late reply — my blog has been a little temperamental today.

    Such interesting and relevant points you’ve raised and I know exactly what you mean – like I was talking about in the post, it’s almost like busyness becomes this badge of honour that people wear. It’s rare you’ll hear someone say “I’ve got nothing to do and I haven’t done a thing for weeks” (even if that was the case, they’d probably feel like they had to make something up to justify what they’d been doing anyway).

    Thanks for your contribution to the discussion, judging by all these incredible comments it’s a pertinent one for us all!

    Liz: You’ve NAILED IT with the line about the term busy losing it’s real meaning. People just switch off to it these days. xx

    Kim: Oh thank you honey, and I’m hearing you LOUD AND CLEAR on that guilt factor. I’m right there with you – a full plate (and yep, have been known to tell everyone how busy I am) but I’m always conscious of fitting in the friend catch ups, the family time, the quality time with my man.. all of it, because I don’t want to be that girl that has no time for anyone, like you. Which means I head to some of those catch ups exhausted and wishing I’d waited until the next week to have a real conversation when I’m in a space where I can enjoy the moment for all it is.

    The talking about it ting is huge. Like anything negative (saying we’re too fat, not good enough and so on) there’s a neurological response and an instant drained feeling that comes from talking about how overwhelmed we are.

    I’m finding it’s SO liberating to eliminate “busy” from my vocab, who know it could be so fun?!! xx

  17. Awesome, awesome, awesome post!!! I could relate to every word – both because I am guilty of using the “busy” excuse to get me out of doing things I don’t want to do, and also I have been on the receiving end of the “I’m just soooo busy” dialogue. It’s like we see it as a badge of honour. Thank you so much for this brilliant read! x

  18. Rach - In Spaces Between says:

    Hi Jess, so lovely to see you here!

    It’s such an easy trap to fall into – especially at this time of year (probably because it’s “socially acceptable” to be more busy and TALK about how busy we are in the lead up to Xmas). Limiting the use of the word really does work though – I’ve found I feel so much calmer and more in control without moaning about how much I have to do. So glad this topic has given everyone a bit of food for thought! xx

  19. Elizabeth says:

    This is such an important lesson. I used to work in a very busy industry where the crazy hours of overtime are like a badge to be worn and proud of. I have absolutely been in that trap of declaring myself busy, therefore off the hook and unaccountable if I have to cancel last minute, or not follow through with loved ones. I decided to say NO to this life. I made the decision to leave this world behind, taking a massive pay cut and lifestyle change. I am much happier, feeling satisfied with all the myriad of things I accomplish, and the depth of my personal relationships, rather then having work be my life, and feeling like I was constantly letting people down. I still feel guilty saying no to people, but I schedule time for me. Even if it’s just to stare out the window for half an hour. I love it where you say “Saying no doesn’t have to be negative – it says that you value the work/ person too much to put in a less than stellar effort.” When you think of it like that, as an issue of respect for the person you are saying no too, it makes it alot easier to be true to your feelings. Thank you Rachel! I am loving your Blog (as a newbie to it) xo

  20. Rach - In Spaces Between says:

    Elizabeth, you know I love this comment and I’ve shared it in my ‘Making Me Happy’ post today because your words are so important.

    I love how you say “I decided to say NO to this life.” The message here is that we’re always in control – we’re not really at the mercy of our work/ life demands – and having that knowledge is all we really need to break the cycle.

    Thank you for sharing your insights! xx

  21. Megan says:

    I am so glad I found your page. I am always looking for people in my “tribe” who are passionate about putting some positivity into the world while inspiring true reflection. I’ll be reading this article as my closing argument today as I present to other Mental Health Professionals about the importance of Self-Care. My last slide asks the question, “What is holding you back from committing to a daily practice of self-care?” Your article will be my answer. We are all so guilty of this. It is truly an epidemic. Thank you so much for speaking out and giving me just the right words to say exactly how I feel ;)

    • Rach - In Spaces Between says:

      Oh I love that! Thanks Megan, and all the best for your presentation. xo

    • Megan says:

      They all loved it! I’ll be including a link to the article when I send out my presentation. Hopefully, you get a few more followers :) Best wishes!

  22. Ashlee says:

    I’ve noticed that suffocating feeling whenever I actually talk about how busy and overwhelmed I am.
    I’ve also noticed that when I just DO what I have to get done, don’t complain or lament about it, and respond to friends’ invites with “I’d love to and I will try to make that happen”, I actually end up having the time to spend with my friends and loved ones.
    It’s like stressing and worrying about everything I need to do is what actually sucks up my extra time for the things I’d like to do, not my to-do list.

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