Thursday, January 9, 2020

Breaking Our Addiction to Busy

Let's talk about how busy we are. I mean we all just love to talk about it, right? It's the answer now when people ask you how you are.

Once when my son was three he was playing with Legos in his room, I knew this because I could hear the clattery churning of thousands of those little bricks in a giant tub as his little arm disappeared in there looking for the perfect piece, I yelled up the stairs, "Dinner!"

The one-word reply came back, "Busy!"

From a three-year-old wearing nothing but a pair of 101 Dalmations briefs.

Maybe this is you. You get an invite to a party, or a girls weekend getaway, or to a movie in the middle of an afternoon, and you reply, "Busy!"

Which kind of busy are you? 

There are a couple of ways that people manifest this in life. One is the person who feels super important, smug, and slightly superior because they are so busy doing important things that make them successful and they don't know what kind of loser you are that you can actually go around creating free time in your schedule for doing the stuff you actually want to do.

And then there are the people who say it with less smugness and more exhaustion. They'd love to join you. Heck, they'd love to sit in the corner of the bathroom and read the back of the shower cleaner label rather than do the stuff they are doing. These are the people who cannot or will not say no.

To clarify, there's nothing wrong with having a full schedule and lots of stuff on your plate. I know the Type-A Overachievering among you feed on that and gain energy from it. I'm talking about when you reach the tipping point and that is different for every single person.

Where are my introverts? 

Let's just be honest. It's harder for us. As a grade-A first-class introvert I have always known that as a means of survival I had to create breathing space in my schedule. I simply do not function well without time to process things. Invite me to your party and I'll be there! I'll just have to go home and spend the next three days avoiding people to recover from it.

If you are an introvert you get it. We recharge by being alone. And social situations, while we can enjoy them, require recovery time. I can hear the extroverts laughing as they go from party to party avoiding solitude and silence at all cost. And guess what. That's okay. It's all okay. Take care of yourself however you need to.

Do you. 

The key is to get the most done, in the way that is most effective for you, without fostering the belief that being busy makes you a better person, or not lazy, or successful. The goal is to get all the important things done while recognizing the urgent may need to wait, or that other people are giving you their homework. You can politely learn to say no.

Break the cycle

Maybe you are saying, "Oh sure. That sounds great. How do I do that between teaching my teenager how to drive, working full time, and trying to save the world? Because that's what women do, right?

1. Sit quietly. That's it. Just sit there. Girl. If you have little kids at home go in the bathroom and lock the door. Shut the door to your office. Hide in your car. Whatever it takes to get some quiet time. Notice how the earth doesn't spin off its axis because you are sitting down and are doing nothing. Huh. I wonder what else wouldn't fall apart if you stopped doing it?

2.  After you sit there for a few minutes begin to think of things you would like to do. Not things you should do or need to do, but things you would like to do. For yourself. Just because. Not big things that require multiple steps like taking an art class, or starting a book club. But something you can do right now like go outside in your bare feet and walk in the grass or pet the dog, or read a book. You are going to have to start small if you have been enslaved to being busy.

Reimagine it all. 

Think about Japanese design or an art museum. There's a calmness there because every space is not filled. There is negative space where nothing exists. This makes the things you are there to see more noticeable and enjoyable. Imagine going to an art museum that was decorated like the inside of a Victorian English Cottage with patterned wallpaper and heavy carpets and knick-knacks covering every flat surface. Instead of being relaxing and inspiring it would create stress and make it hard to focus.

Imagine your schedule like you are curating the museum. Now everyone is going to have a different level of the number of masterpieces they can tolerate in their museum. You might like one thing per wall while your overachieving friend may want to hang that art from the floor to the ceiling. That's all personal preference. But we aren't going to let other people come in and start stacking their boxes on the floor.

Create the exact level of busyness that energizes and motivates you but still gives you time to feed your soul, get plenty of rest, and stare at the sunset. Or as the saying goes, if it's not a "Hell yeah!" then say no to whatever it is.

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