The curse of busyness

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The phrase ‘I don’t have time’ should be banished from our vocabulary, says Tascha von Uexkull. Because the truth is quite different.

Busyness can seem like a perpetual state. We’re too busy to make meetings or keep deadlines. It seems impossible to carve a portion of time from the cake of life. Each day has become an agglomeration of appointments – be they for work, socialising, impromptu holidays, or the vagueness of ‘needing space’. But what havoc is this sensation of eternal busyness wreaking on our lives and might we be more productive and happy without it?

There’s no denying that certain times of life are busier than others. A new job or a particularly pressing deadline might have you scrambling to find enough hours in the day and cancelling commitments that fall to the bottom of your priority list. 

There’s also the parallel truth – and I certainly would be loath to deny it – that being busy feels good. A full diary feels like an accomplishment.

Cancelling coffee with a friend because of back-to-back engagements seems like the height of productivity.

And what does productivity do? Well, it gives us a sense of purpose.

Responsibility and the feeling that people are relying on us initially create the illusion that we are irreplaceable, as though held up by this army of expectation. The reality is that when we still feel sad in spite of our full diaries and this great responsibility, we realise that we are not being held up but in fact holding up a great many people. 

I thought to make myself concrete

to take on myself the weight of so many

that crumbling wouldn’t be an option

But paradoxically I find 

the process of degradation 

inevitably occurring 

and I – merely –

carrying all down with me

But are we really so busy that we can’t make time for what’s important?

This sensation that we need to be busy in order to be fulfilled can be misleading and dangerous, especially when we fail to realise we can prioritise our time and not fall into the vagueness of general ‘busyness’. A full diary is not the answer to happiness; often it is quite the opposite. 

We might not realise it, but in using busyness as an excuse, we are implicitly saying ‘I made time for this but not for that’.

In other words ‘I made time for him/her/them, but not for you’. We need to be careful we aren’t alienating people and things that are important in the dizzyingly desirable world of busyness.

The uncomfortable truth is that we are rarely as busy as we think we are.

In fact, often the busier we consider ourselves to be, the more easily we get distracted. Constantly anticipating the next moment or the next task, we forget to savour the moment right in front of us. 

Every waking moment is so consumed with anticipation that our minds become as full as our diaries and it can be hard to process the value of banal pleasures, like a chance encounter in a supermarket or a walk in the park. It can be difficult also to be fully immersed in our social encounters and not be continually anticipating the next moment’s occurrence or – worse – the speaker’s next sentence.

I have to continually remind myself that listening is an art, which involves devoting my full attention to the person who is speaking. After all, if my mind is engaged elsewhere, panicking at the missed tick on the to-do list, I will never fully appreciate the power of simply being content in this particular moment.

In this moment I am not broken

Assembling, mid-motion,

my disparate parts, but gliding whole

down streets filled with quiet hope 

in gentle communion 

with this almost smile

I cannot shake from my lips 

Each day the average person spends nearly two hours on social media. This statistic in itself confirms that we simply cannot be as busy as we think we are.

Paradoxically we feel guilty for taking actual assigned ‘breaks’ during working hours even though these have been proven to increase our productivity levels.

We don’t consider that if, for instance, we turned our phone off during the working day, we could take some more real breaks that would help rather than distract from the tasks at hand. 

And one other thing … Have you ever considered that in communicating to someone else ‘I am busy’, you are implicitly (even if accidentally) inferring that they are not? Not a good idea!

To avoid this and other ‘busyness gaffes’, I recommend the excellent Skillshare video about productivity by doctor Ali Abdaal, which advises the viewer to cut out the phrase ‘I don’t have time’ from their vocabulary. We all, he reminds us, have the same amount of time – 24 hours in a day to be precise. So instead, it is a question of how we choose to use it. 

How do you plan to use yours?

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