Are You Busy?

"The greatest enemy of good thinking is busyness." -John C. Maxwell

"I can't, I'm crazy busy."

“Oh my god, me too, I’m SO busy.”

Who hasn't had this exchange? It's difficult to decipher if it's a battle of complaints, or one-upmanship in an attempt to out-busy the other. 

There's an almost-glamour to our busy martyrdom. It's become the norm and an expected response. What, you’re not busy? You must be lazy, our ego gloats.

Busy is the addiction of choice for many Type As, workaholics, and the group of us that fears what might come from spaciousness; busyness is a mental crutch. It's a trap door many of us fall through, myself included. Unfortunately, busyness is not productivity. Instead, it leeches our productivity, sucking our time and energy dry. 

Our ego proudly wears our busyness like a badge of honor. All the doing makes us feel important.

Meanwhile, busyness is bringing a slow death to our progress, dreams, passions, and relationships as it sucks out the air in the room, leaving us suffocating in the corner clutching our to-do list.

Busyness leaves us with no room for fresh ideas and creativity. It bullies us, commanding attention, as it zaps our energy and time for self-care and rest. Crowding everything else out, busyness elbows our priorities to the sidelines where they sit forgotten. 

Often, when we lament about being "too busy", we're making a clever excuse to cover up the real story: we're scared, stuck, or unclear.

As Tim Ferriss says in Tools of Titans, "Being busy is a form of laziness - lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions."

We use "busy" to make ourselves feel better when we haven't done the work we want to do, or when we want to avoid the task sitting outside our comfort zone. After all, it feels much better to stroke our ego and say, "Well, I was just so busy and didn't have time to get around to it," instead of copping to, "I was terrified I'd fall on my face and get laughed at, so I distracted myself with random activity." 

It's a brilliant excuse and perfectly acceptable in a society that kowtows to the busy. But deep down, we know we make time for what's important.

We also use busyness to fill up the void of loneliness or the hole that pain leaves behind. It keeps us in avoidance and gives us the added benefit of nods of sympathy and understanding from the busy herd. It can feel virtuous, filling our days up with busyness. Our ego dances around town, its chest puffed up, and it feels GOOD; we get to avoid our pain and distract ourselves from the uncomfortable truth. Pretty clever. 

We search in fear to fill up our schedules with commitments we don't really want to do. Our days, months, and years get busied with people-pleasing and frantic, distracted actions squashing our priorities and values along the way.

Tim Greider says it well in this article for the NY Times: “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day….Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

It’s a bit of a mind-bend. Busyness makes us feel like we’re getting somewhere, when it really just keeps us stuck on the hamster wheel of life, exhausting us as we get nowhere fast.

The creative needs unbusied, unscheduled time to daydream and ideate. The entrepreneur needs space to focus and build their empire. The artist needs uninterrupted time to create. The individual needs time to be, relax, recharge, and to focus on the life they want. Our relationships require attention to grow and flourish.

Purposeful action and inspiration are born of spaciousness. 

Before you hear this wrong... I’m not encouraging sitting around and waiting idly for something to happen. I'm also not so unrealistic as to gloss over the myriad responsibilities we all have.

I am all for taking action and for focused, intentional productivity. I'm all for showing up for our responsibilities.

I am discouraging the addition of busyness for busyness' sake, for tasks done at the expense of our priorities and in place of our dreams. I'm talking about the activities we busy our days with that crowd out what's most important to us. The schedule-fillers we use to avoid looking at what's really going on inside. 

I’d love to invite you to join me in a little busyness detox.

Don’t worry, there are no strange beverages to drink here. Simply pay attention over the next few weeks to how many times you lean on “I’m busy”, and create an awareness around it.

See if you can remove "I'm busy" from your vernacular. Get curious about where your time is going. Kick it up a notch, and say no to, or cancel, a few busy todos.

And please, stop acting busy and doing busy-work because you think you should or because it makes you feel productive. 

busyness trap

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