My reaction to busy signals is much like that of Mindy Kaling, who sees stress as non-conversation:
No one ever wants to hear how stressed out anyone else is, because most of the time everyone is stressed out.
Going on and on in detail about how stressed out one is, isn’t conversation. It’ll never lead anywhere — except making your conversation partner bored, or worse, peeved.
No one is going to say, “Wow, Mindy, you really have it especially bad.
I have heard some stories of stress, but this just takes the cake.”
People who act super busy send the same message, making time spent with them never feel quite whole.
Interestingly, I find that most people who are legitimately occupied,
with their work, family, art or what-have-you, rarely play the “too busy” card, or go out of their way to make time for meaningful connection exactly because they’ve been busy.
The Meaning Behind “Busy”
When one goes on to other people,
or to oneself, about being so busy,
he/she is often engaging in doublespeak.
Let’s dig a little deeper to translate what one actually means when one is in the habit of saying or acting like he/she is too busy:
Being busy means I’m needed and significant in this great big universe. Though going around literally telling people, “I matter!” and expecting some sort of substantive conversation to result would be really weird, I’ll just say “I’m busy!” instead.
I am super-important.
Doling out complaints and explanations about being too busy is the express line to a mini-ego trip.
It’s going beyond “I matter” to “I matter … more than you” despite the fact that nobody ever wants to hear this.
I’m giving you an easy excuse.
This is one of the easiest outs for stuff I don’t want to do.
Alternatively, I’ve spent a lot of time being distracted or stuck, but this excuse allows me to feel okay with it.
I keep relentlessly busy because I suffer from FOMO, or fear of missing out. I’m scared that I don’t matter,
that I’m not important, that I’m not needed, so I’m going to spend my time on distracting stuff that doesn’t really matter, that’s not all that important, where I’m not actually needed.
I feel guilty.
There’s fulfilling, meaningful stuff that I actually do want to do but I can rationalize it away instead of confronting challenges or changing direction.
Alternatively, I think being busy is such a valuable quality that I’ll overbook myself to the point where I feel guilty for not getting to everything or for spending time on anything that doesn’t fit into a limited definition of “productive.”
The worship of busy-ness as such a virtue is where the trouble begins, providing the foundation to its indiscriminate use as a front or an excuse.
It’s easy, even enticing, to neglect the importance of filling our time with meaning, thinking instead that we’ll be content with merely filling our time.
In the children’s book (that every adult should read), The Phantom Tollbooth, the protagonist Milo comes across the frightening, faceless Terrible Trivium, a “demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit.”
Milo and his friends fall under his spell, agreeing to perform busy-work like moving a huge pile of sand from one place to another, grain by grain, using a tweezer.
The Terrible Trivium’s explanation for this terrible fate?
If I only do the easy and useless jobs, i’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. I just won’t have the time.
For there’s always something to do to keep me from what i really should be doing….
What a scary thought!
So if I find myself feeling frazzled, habitually explaining away things with a busy status, it’s probably time to slow down and pay attention to the important, difficult stuff.
I’ll examine what is keeping me so busy compared to what I really should and want to be doing.
Here are a couple ways I could start:
In the quest to better connect my attention and action, i do an attention audit.
Track my time using a tool like Harvest or a time log spreadsheet. Break down how I spend time on the computer with RescueTime.
Or see how i answer the questions of “What did you get done today?” and “What did you pay attention to today?” over time using iDoneThis.
Change my language.
I like this tip from Laura Vanderkam. Instead of putting things in terms of time and activity, frame them in terms of priority:
Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels.
Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation.
I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to.
But other things are harder.
Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.”
“I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.”
If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point.
Changing my language reminds me that time is a choice.
If i don’t like how I’m spending an hour, i can choose differently.
Not only does one need rest and renew, we also have to slow down and pause to acknowledge our feelings, celebrate our accomplishments, and gain some insight.
Brené Brown explains how people stay busy out of habit and fear.
She recommends letting go of “exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth” and allowing us to explore what matters:
When we make the transition from crazy-busy to rest, we have to find out what comforts us, what really refuels us, and do that.
We deserve to not just put work away and be in service of someone else.
What’s really meaningful for us?
What do we want to be doing?
Do less and feel more joy.
The opposite of the fear of missing out, as Anil Dash so beautifully wrote, is the joy of missing out.
Pay attention to what’s in front of us and we’ll gain control and find joy.
Being the one in control of what moves me, what I feel obligated by, and what attachments I have to fleeting experiences is not an authority that I’m willing to concede to the arbitrary whims of an app on my mobile phone.
Feel more joy.
Learning how to do less.
Stop spreading myself so thin by saying “no” more, by saying “no” to being busy, and by meaning “yes” more fully… ❤️E.Lyn.
To live with sincerity in our culture of cynicism is a difficult dance — one that comes easily only to the very young and the very old.
The rest of us are left to tussle with two polarizing forces ripping the psyche asunder by beckoning to it from opposite directions — critical thinking and hope.
Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.
Finding fault and feeling hopeless about improving the situation produces resignation — cynicism is both resignation’s symptom and a futile self-protection mechanism against it.
Blindly believing that everything will work out just fine also produces resignation, for we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better.
But in order to survive — both as individuals and as a civilization — and especially in order to thrive, we need the right balance of critical thinking and hope.
Overwater it and it rots with excess. Underwater it and it dries up inside.
I thought about this recently in observing my unease — my seething cauldron of deep disappointment — with an opinion piece commenting on Arianna Huffington’s decision to continue publishing necessary reporting on “what’s not working — political dysfunction, corruption, wrongdoing, etc.” but to begin giving more light to stories that embody the “perseverance, creativity, and grace” of which we humans are capable.
The writer criticizing Huffington’s decision asserted, with ample indignation, that “to privilege happy stories over ‘unhappy’ ones is to present a false view of the world.”
Let’s consider for a moment the notion of an un-false view of the world — the journalistic ideal of capital-T truth.
Let’s, too, put aside for now Hunter S. Thompson’s rather accurate assertion that the possibility of objectivity is a myth to begin with.
Since the golden age of newspapers in the early 1900s, we’ve endured a century of rampant distortion toward the other extreme — a consistent and systematic privileging of harrowing and heartbreaking “news” as the raw material of the media establishment.
The complaint which a newspaper editor issued in 1923, lamenting the fact that commercial interest rather than journalistic integrity determines what is published as the “news,” could well have been issued today — if anything, the internet has only exacerbated the problem.
As for Huffington, while we can only ever speculate about another person’s motives — for who can peer into the psyche of another and truly see into that person’s private truth? — this I continue to believe: The assumptions people make about the motives of others always reveal a great deal more about the assumers than the assumed-about.
This particular brand of cynicism is especially pronounced when the assumed-about have reached a certain level of success or public recognition.
Take, for instance, an entity like TED — something that began as a small, semi-secret groundswell that was met with only warmth and love in its first few years of opening up to the larger world. And then, as it reached a tipping point of recognition, TED became the target of rather petty and cynical criticism.
Here is an entity that has done nothing more nor less than to insist, over and over, that despite our many imperfections, we are inherently kind and capable and full of goodness — and yet even this isn’t safe from cynicism.
Let’s return, then, to the question of what is true and what is false, and what bearing this question has — if any — on what we call reality.
The stories that we tell ourselves, whether they be false or true, are always real.
We act out of those stories, reacting to their realness.
William James knew this when he observed: “My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.”
What storytellers do — and this includes journalists and TED and everyone in between who has a point of view and an audience, whatever its size — is help shape our stories of how the world works; at their very best, they can empower our moral imagination to envision how the world could work better.
In other words, they help us mediate between the ideal and the real by cultivating the right balance of critical thinking and hope.
Truth and falsehood belong to this mediation, but it is guided primarily by what we are made to believe is real.
What we need, then, are writers like William Faulkner, who came of age in a brothel, saw humanity at its most depraved, and yet managed to maintain his faith in the human spirit.
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he asserted that the writer’s duty is “to help man endure by lifting his heart.”
In contemporary commercial media, driven by private interest, this responsibility to work in the public interest and for the public good recedes into the background.
And yet I continue to stand with E.B. White, who so memorably asserted that “writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life”; that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down.”
Yes, people sometimes do horrible things, and we can speculate about why they do them until we run out of words and sanity.
But evil only prevails when we mistake it for the norm.
There is so much goodness in the world — all we have to do is remind one another of it, show up for it, and refuse to leave… ❤️E.Lyn