Monday, June 28, 2010

So How Busy Are You Really?

BusyI bet if I stood in downtown Anchorage with a clipboard and pencil, asking every person the generic "How's your day?" question, nine times out of ten I'd get the same response.

"Busy!" They'd say. Because when I ask people I know in real life how they're doing, ninety percent of the time that's the answer they give me.

It stumps me a bit when I hear someone comment on how busy they are. Is everyone I know busy? What are they doing to keep them so busy--so consistently busy? Sometimes they'll elaborate with an example of their frantic daily schedule, proving to me that they are, in fact, terribly busy. Sometimes they'll just leave "busy" without any explanation as if it's some vague yet wholly complete state of being--no explanation necessary. But they never say the word in a pleasant way, as if they're excited to be capable of the miracle of life, locomotion and rational thought, it's always said with just a hint of exasperation, fatigue, or irritation--take your pick--as if the question itself is an unwanted interruption.

Maybe my acquaintances are just busier than the average human but I doubt it.

I've thought about it and I've come to believe that we all have been taken in. We've been scammed, we've swallowed the non sequitur that if you're busy then you must be important. Important equals busy so busy equals important. The busier you are the more in demand you are, the more people want you, the more valuable your allotment of hours is. Someone who isn't busy, who has just enough hours in the day to accomplish exactly what they set out to do after rising from their bed well-rested and happy, who goes through the week unharried from the demands of others is unwanted, unnecessary and unrespected.

It's a simple case of the law of supply and demand being horribly misconstrued, crossing over into our social order in ways it was never meant to--kind of like social Darwinism--and with equally nasty and unpleasant results.

Instead of busy-ness being a sign of disorganization, the inability to prioritize, a tendency to take too much on and a misuse of our most valuable resource (i.e. time) busy-ness has come to be honored as a sign of prestige and power which doesn't make sense to me. I don't admire people who run about from one task to the next with little time in between for humanity but we've been brainwashed to think that they're productive and efficient when most likely they're just cursed with twitchy leg syndrome. Or whatever the social equivalent of not being able to sit still is.

Sure it's great to be involved in your community, to be challenging yourself by learning new things, to be creative and enthusiastic but nowadays, more often than not, being busy tends to cross the line into needless chores that always seem to take longer than they should, leaving us racing through red lights, grabbing junk food from vending machines and keeping us from connecting with those around us. And why? So we can maintain an enviable lifestyle. To make our kids smarter or more talented than their counterparts, to make our houses and toys bigger and better than the neighbors' or to be higher on the corporate ladder than the next guy--which all require even more work to maintain. It's the cruel and horrible cycle that kills with certainty.

So slow down. Don't be so darn busy. After all, everyone around you thinks they're busier than you are anyway so maybe you should allow them to be--give them a cut in line or a smile as they merge ahead of you on the freeway. Let your kids have time to be kids and spend a day at play without the constant stream of lessons and sports events. If you have to multi-task then multi-task but first make sure each task is worth doing before investing so many precious minutes of your day on it.

And for goodness sake, when someone asks you how you're doing, don't say, "Busy!" We've heard it too many times to take it seriously anyway.

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37 comments:

Linds said...

Another excellent post, Michelle. The older I get, the more aware I am of the fact that every day of 24 hours is a gift, and that I need to use it wisely. Not the way the world may consider wise, but the way I do. So I try.

Mrs. Ohtobe said...

My busy factor goes up considerably when coupled with my 'inablity to say no' factor is high.

Lucy said...

I have friends who go into the "I'm so busy" mode everytime I give them a call. It gets annoying. The fact that I'm not nearly as 'busy' as they are comes across very loudly. I don't know where that came from nor why but it's been around a long enough time.

Raejean said...

I just read an article about the same thing over the weekend. It focused on business keeps us from the most important things, often the spiritual things in our lives that bring us the greatest blessings. I also notice that when I feel busy, I don't enjoy life or my family. I don't appreciate the blessings I've been given. Thanks for your post - this is a lesson I keep needing to relearn!

Kayris said...

I'd say we're busy, but not always in a bad way. This past weekend was the first since February when we didn't have either someplace to go, or I didn't have to work. My husband's family is large and this time of year often feels like an endless parade of weddings and graduation parties. Throw in my treasury duties for my kids school, training for a race, and volunteering at church and we are quite often pretty busy. But it's usually an enjoyable busy.

However, my kids are not really busy. My son played softball in the spring, but the season was just 2 months long. They both did VBS last week, and I'll probably sign my son up for swimming lessons too. But that's it. This is the last summer before he starts full time school and I'd like to enjoy the time with him, instead of running from activity to activity.

And as always, being busy at work is a good thing. It means the business is making money and we're all keeping our jobs.

{ L } said...

There is a lot of wisdom in your words! Well said!

Leslie said...

I love this post! Everyone is sooo busy. Can't we all just agree that we're all very busy and get on with it? Sometimes it seems like it's a competition to see who's the busiest. That said, I'm guilty of putting too much emphasis on how busy I am, but saying I'm busy usually translates to: I have too many things I have to do that aren't also what I want to do. I can have just as much on my plate, but when it's something I want to be doing, I don't feel nearly as busy at all. I guess it's all about perspective for me.

Pieces said...

Well said. I am not a very busy person--my life is organized and satisfying and there is enough time to do everything that needs to be done. But I don't share that with many people because I know that it diminishes me in their eyes. But THEY are diminished in MY eyes because they are so disorganized and harried.

Sheila said...

Ouch! You just stepped on my toes! But you made me laugh, too. I vow to not same I'm busy the next time someone asks me.

Reno said...

I think that being 'busy' is trendy. I am not a busy person. And I like it that way. That was a great post.

Stephanie Frieze said...

I think we are all too busy and that many parents overschedule their children. My grandchildren take all sorts of lessons and don't have enough time to just be kids. I would like to simplify my life, but in today's world it isn't easy. I get up in the morning thinking, oh lovely, nothing in particular to do and before I know it there's a list a mile long and I wonder what happened.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite posts. Well-said! I assume that people have important things to do; when they feel the need to actually point out how busy they are, it immediately diminishes the importance that I already granted them. Instead of making them seem more important, their need to proclaim their busyness betrays their insecurity, making them seem kind of needy and pathetic.

Alaska Virgin Air said...

My friend just got a job after being in school for four years. Her comment was, it's really going to cut into my schedule.

I have to laugh, but it's true. We have so many commitments these days. It's amazing we get everything done.

So let the dishes go, forget about dusting. Take that walk by the Coastal Trail. And life will be much easier.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this blog accidentally through a friend of a friend. Your subject line caught my attention, so I knew I had to read the post.

Well said!

I have an Aunt who always complains when people tell her they're "too busy" to call her or keep up with correspondence. Her response is always the same, "We're all busy. Life is busy. You make time for the people and things that are important to you."

Two years ago, I lost my best friend to that "busy" excuse. Every time I'd talk with her, she'd give me a sigh, tell me how "busy" she was, and then list all the reasons why she didn't have time to be my friend anymore. I gave up trying. I miss her.

Sometimes I think I should be more "busy" just to fit in. But I'm content knowing I devote my time to the people and things who are important to me.

An Ordinary Mom said...

Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us. Compared to most, my family tends to lead a relatively simple life. But even though we don't participate in a lot of extra things, life is still "busy" with three little ones. But that is just it - life is always busy. The key is to enjoy the gifts we have been given :) !!

Janel said...

Bravo.

When we moved to this upscale, respectable neighborhood 5 years ago, we decided we wanted to get to know The Neighbors. (You know, since we can tell the color of their bedroom from our dining room and the like.)

There are 5 neighbors close to us. 3 of them were "too busy" to come to dinner or tea or dessert or a play date on each and any of the numerous occasions they were invited. During the last invitation the one neighbor lady started rattling off how *dreadfully* busy they were and there was no way they could do anything like that. Being a bit more than disgusted, I looked at her and said something to the effect of, "It's a crying shame that we are so busy in the U.S. that we can't even take time to eat."

She hasn't spoken to me since. e'hem

Suzi Dow said...

Frankly, I have always tried *never* to be to busy to spend time enjoying those and what is around me. Guess we're related in that way.

Daisy said...

Slow down, you move too fast. You've got to make the morning last! Just kickin' down the cobblestones... lookin' for fun and feelin' groovy!!

There's a reason Simon and Garfunkel didn't say "feelin' busy"!

Chocolate Inspector said...

I am guilty! This article was so eye-opening. I am always "busy", but no more than other people. And I could slow down if I didn't involve myself in everything.
Thank you for this article you wrote so well, it's right on. (Can you tell I don't have that same writing skill? ha ha)

ellen stevens said...

slapping the LOVE IT button!

Patricia L said...

You're so right, but I'm too busy to comment any further.... :)

Stephanie said...

Michelle, I love the way you think about things. And, most of all, I love that you THINK.

This post will definitely make me pause and reflect next time someone asks me how I am.

stephanie@metropolitanmama.net

Crunchy Green Mom - Suzanne B. said...

GREAT post.

I am always "busy".... however that leaves me snapping at my kids, exhausted all the time and not enjoying these few weeks with my 9 year old.

I guess letting someone else be busy isn't a horrible idea!

Robin Sue said...

Busy is doing a bunch of things you don't want to do. Fulfilled is when every minute of your day is filled with serving your family, friends, and self. SO I think I will say fulfilled from now on. I like saying no, I have become good at it. Great post.

Blessed said...

Thanks for the reminder... to keep life manageable.

-Jenn

Donita said...

I've become fond of saying that Busy is a Four-Letter-Word.
It's like an expletive designed to push people away.

Mike Sakasegawa said...

Well, there's busy and then there's busy, right? I do think that people can get a little caught up in the press of chores and errands and the things that distract them from the good things in life. Still, I find a lot of value in packing my day as full as I can.

The obvious thing is that my (really, all of our) time is finite. I have only so many days ahead of me in which to experience anything, and there is a lot I want to do while I can. But there are a lot of demands on my time that aren't optional. I can't just not show up to work. I can't leave my son in dirty diapers. I can't let dishes pile up too long or let the fridge get too empty.

That makes the time I'm left with all the more precious, and I want to get as much out of it as I can. I probably trade sleep for personal time more than I ought to, but the way I see it, it's pretty unlikely that at the end of my life, I'll think to myself "I wish I had done less."

[Stacia] said...

I don't have time to read all the comments today :) but I'm sure I won't be the first to say I'm not always 'busy.' I'm usually doing something but I try to make sure I'm never too busy to say hello, kiss my kids, help someone out, or just sit and enjoy. So next time you need to hear it, you're welcome to ask me how I'm doing. I promise not to answer with busy.
Great post, thanks for the reminder!

JanMary said...

Excellent observation - and so true, it is easy to just say "I'm SO busy".

We need to take time for the important things, and enjoy the moment NOW, not wait for that illusive day when we think we will have more time.

Kat @ Inspired To Action said...

Michelle,
Sheer brilliance. Great post! We all need to print this out and tape it to our fridge before the school year starts.

Carley Knobloch said...

I couldn't agree MORE with your post. That badge-of-honor thing gets in the way of people really seeing how unproductive and frantic they are, and how much it takes a toll on their quality of life. SO much more productive to stop, breathe, and assess your goals-- what do I want to accomplish? How can I prioritize what's important to me, so I can feel excited to wake up each day, instead of dreading all the "busy-ness".

Katie Sharp said...

My organization provides education for adoptive families and although your post wans't about adoption, it was thought-provoking and made me post a link on our blog with a a few of my own thoughts. Thank you!

Katy said...

Loved your post. I consider "busy-ness" to be the social currency of our times. (Along with complaining) There is a competitive undertone in the complaint of being 'too busy'.

I've never been happier since getting off the hamster wheel! I have jam-packed days just like anyone but it's a completely different mindset.

Alexson said...

So well put!

Margie said...

Thanks for this insightful post. It inspired me to pick up my blogging pen again.
Margie (a very not-busy person):)

Beth said...

An excellent post! It's so interesting to really think about why we claim to be busy all the time and how we think that equals important. Great food for thought.

LinnOrganized said...

LOVED this article! It caused me to really evaluate how busy I am, or how busy I think I am. I just shared it on my organization site and know it will be a great help to others. Thanks so much!