The Cost of Being Too Busy
How often do you use the word “busy” to describe the state of your life? It seems like it’s really in fashion these days to be busy.
Although busy is defined as having a great deal to do, I get the feeling that we all experience “being busy” in very different ways:
- Some of us are physically busy checking things off our endless to-do lists that are filled with errands and chores to be completed—matters to be addressed
- Others are mentally busy feeding the narratives of our overthinking mind—consumed by obsessive thinking and rumination of past, present, and future
- Many are emotionally busy stewing in negative emotions and anxious feelings that seem to take charge all too often
My intention with this blog is to delve beneath the surface of “busy” in order to uncover the truth behind our “busyness.” Is all of it real and justified? Just what are we really busy with? And, what are the real-life consequences of that busyness?
A client of mine once told me that he found it absurd how so many of his retired friends spoke about how busy they were every day. When I asked him why he thought they used the word “busy,” this was his response: “I think they’re trying to convince themselves that they are still leading productive lives and that they are still valued.”
What are we trying to convince ourselves and others when we tell people we are busy? Does it help us to feel more important, more popular, more needed, perhaps less alone… and with our thoughts?
In his very powerful book, Man’s Search For Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” In these very powerful words, Frankl gently reminds us that these choice-points exist, and that there are many throughout each and every day.
In today’s busy culture our default seems to be living unconsciously, reactively, and on autopilot. What this means, unfortunately, is that many of us have lost that space. So many people tell me their lives are so busy that there is no room to pause—to create that space between stimulus and response.
This is not only sad but also troubling. Think about this: If we are too busy, do we then subconsciously give ourselves permission to cut corners and to lower our standards? If yes, do we then give others permission to do so as well? That being said, can we still trust people in the same way that we used to?
What about the price we pay in other ways for being such busy people? What is the cost? What are some of the consequences? Ask yourself:
- Do you frequently feel exhausted and depleted—stressed and anxious?
- Are you noticing symptoms of burnout, deteriorating health, and poor memory?
- Do you lack the time and energy to properly care for yourself and others?
- Have you become a “human doing” rather than a human being?
- Has your life become a dash to the finish line rather than a journey to be enjoyed?
Time is a most precious commodity. But if all we can feel is busy, then precious time has lost its rightful meaning and has become far less valuable.
So how can we slow things down? How can we learn how to better manage our time—so we can say “yes” and “no” when necessary? Or do we even want to? Perhaps being busy feels better than having to face some of the many uncomfortable alternatives. If you’re not busy, then…
- You may have to deal with boredom—how unsettling is that?
- You may have to be alone with yourself and with your thoughts—how anxiety provoking is that?
- You may feel left out like you don’t belong with all of your busy friends and family and fear that you’re missing out—how worrisome is that?
- You may have to deal with the guilt of seemingly wasting time—how disconcerting is that?
So why even take a chance on all this uncertainty? Do you even know what it would really be like NOT to be busy? Well, you have the power of choice—so you get to decide if you want to take the opportunity to explore the alternatives. You could be in for a pleasant surprise!
Answering these two important questions may further help you to make your decision:
- What are you too busy WITH?
- What are you too busy FOR—what are you neglecting?
Thankfully, not only is “busy” trending these days, but so too is mindfulness, which I consider to be a kind of antidote to the busyness. And so, I challenge you to reflect upon those commitments that are keeping you so busy and consider redefining “busy” in a way that will serve you, your dear family and friends, and your future-self best.
I encourage you to review your calendar and assess your upcoming commitments. Consider whether or not you’re honoring at least some of your core values with each commitment you make. Try to become more mindful of what you are currently prioritizing and, more importantly, why. Ask yourself if you are merely filling your time with “stuff” to keep you busy, safe, and comfortable, or if you are actually managing your time wisely in order to live a fulfilling life? If the latter, please feel free to share how!
Continue to find ways to pause and become more aware—look for the spaces. And make it your business to wisely choose your “busyness.”