I recently read an article by Omid Safi about The Disease of Being Busy. In the article, Omid describes how our culture has become obsessed with being busy, to the point that we even over-schedule our children. Omid asks poignant questions like:
“How exactly are we supposed to examine the dark corners of our soul when we are so busy? How are we supposed to live the examined life?”
This article brought up another, perhaps deeper, question for me. Why are we so busy? In other words, what is the root cause of this unmanageable level of activity that many of us feel compelled to maintain in our lives?
Our jobs require us to push harder, do more, “knock it out of the park.” As a consequence we end up with little time for family and friends. Our health and well-being suffer. We feel unhappy. And we do the same thing in our personal lives – trying to fill every spare moment with activity. On the nights that we don’t work late, we spend most of our time driving our kids to fifteen different extra-curricular activities, with barely enough time to eat dinner.
Part of my job involves studying yoga and meditation in schools. One of my colleagues recently told me a story about a parent who was upset that a yoga teacher had taught her child how to eat mindfully (i.e. how to eat slowly and carefully, really noticing and tasting your food). Why was the parent upset? Because her child was eating her after-school snack too slowly, which didn’t leave enough time to get her to her piano lessons.
Why are we doing this to ourselves and our children?
Is it because society has brainwashed us into feeling like we need to work hard so that we can keep up with the Jones’? Are we keeping ourselves busy to distract ourselves from the fact that we are unhappy? Is it about money? The economy? A nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic that was held by the people who founded the United States?
I live in Boston, which, aside from New York City, is one of the most type-A infused places that I have ever visited. People here are always in such a hurry. Walking on the sidewalk is like driving on a highway. If I want to pass someone I have to check my blind spot to make sure that no one plows into me. My husband’s old car was manual transmission. When we were stopped at a red light, he wouldn’t even have time to put his car into first gear before people started honking at him.
The worst part of it is that I know that I fall prey to the disease of being busy just as much as anyone else.
I often feel like I’m in a hurry – even when I don’t need to be. I get very impatient when standing in line. I get annoyed when someone is walking too slowly in front of me. I feel like I have a never-ending To Do list, both personally and professionally, that I can never quite get a handle on.
But why? Why do I feel this way?
It’s not like my job involves life or death scenarios. It’s not like I have to arrive to a meeting in time so that I can perform heart surgery. And most of my time outside of work is my own. I don’t have children. I don’t play sports. On most evenings I’m free to do as I please.
Then why do I feel guilty about having spare time? Why do I feel like I need to fill every minute of my day with activities?
I don’t have the answers to these questions. But what I do know is this. The times in my life when I’ve given myself permission to be less busy are the times when I have come up with my best ideas.
Creativity comes from giving yourself the mental and physical space to step back and relax. Your brain needs time to decompress in order to be innovative and think outside the box.
As Omid said in his article:
“We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.”
I urge you to have the courage to be less busy. When someone asks, “How are you?” avoid using the word “busy” in your response. Instead, like someone recently mentioned on my Facebook page, say that your life is “rich and full.” Or, be brave enough to say that you’re creating space for your next big idea.
I hope that someone eventually figures out why we’re so obsessed with busy-ness. In the meantime, perhaps together we can brainstorm some answers. Why do you think we keep ourselves so busy? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
Image courtesy of Sam X.