I’ve was greeted with this question twice yesterday. I’m curious~what are your first thoughts when asked if you’ve had a busy day?
Are they similar to one of these answers?
1.“Yes, I’ve been ‘on the go’ from the moment my feet hit the floor; getting myself/ family ready in the morning, making lunch,putting the wash on, trying to get emails cleared, phone calls returned, all my urgent tasks done, worked through lunch, trying to have dinner ready but need to grab some shopping in between after-school or after-work activities”.
2.“No I’ve not been all that busy. I should have been as I have a massive list of things to do. It weighs on my mind because I haven’t done that weeding/ work/ application/ insurance claim/ the car registration/ booked the hair /dental appointment etc.”
3.“No not too busy. I had a leisurely breakfast, did a couple of hours work, then sat outside for a while in the sun playing guitar”.
What does it matter anyway?
Not so long ago the greeting was “Had a good day?” or “How’s your day been?”
Take a moment to reflect on how the question “Had a busy day?” made you feel.
When your answer is like number 1, do you let out a sigh as you reply? You share just how non-stop your day is, how there’s not a moment for yourself. You feel acknowledged and understood (even if briefly!) for just how busy your life is, how much you do, the massive demands on you, right?
If your answer’s closer to number 2, the question fills you with guilt. Either you feel you should have more going on. Or it makes you remember all the things you should be doing, that you’ve been putting off. So you may just say ”Yeah, I’ve been busy” to avoid them thinking you’re lazy. And then a cascade of negative self talk starts, criticizing yourself for not being more disciplined, and your mood deflates a bit.
How about if your answer is more like number 3? You’re comfortable to let them know you’re taking your time enjoying work and play. You feel no guilt and don’t feel the need to justify that you deserve this ‘time off’ in some way.
What’s going on?
Have you noticed how we wear ‘busyness’ as a badge of honour? We increasingly measure people’s success by their busyness, how many hours they work, how many emails they get each day, meetings scheduled, how big their in-tray is, how many kids’ afterschool activities they have and / or the number of committees they are on?
And even if we have the choice not to be busy, do you notice how we want to be seen as busy?
We have to be constantly ‘doing’ something to feel validated. And often, we use our long hours or position in the company to define who we are. The more important the job and the more hours we work, the more respected we feel by family, friends and society.
Try meeting someone and see how quickly one of you asks “So what do you do?” We are working longer and longer hours, with less time to do all the other things we love.
The memory of one experience is so clear, though it was some 15 years ago. I was walking the 3-day Routeburn track, one of our famous and most beautiful walks in Fiordland here in New Zealand. We’d completed the first day 3 -4 hour walk, loving the beautiful scenery and it was now dark as we had dinner. Suddenly from the darkness into the hut walked 2 people. We learnt they had flown in from the USA that day for a 5-day holiday. With so little time, they took a helicopter to the start of the track and walked for those 3 hours in the dark. They were gone before light next morning, to walk back out the way they walked in, as there was no time to do the remaining part of the track. They were intending to ‘do’ the whole of New Zealand in 5 days.
When did we allow ourselves so little time to play, have fun and go on vacation?
When do you stop and feel that peace and calm inside, knowing nothing needs doing? Is the only time you feel this when on holiday, away from your own home and out of phone or Internet range? Is this the only time you give yourself permission to stop?In New Zealand we used to be good at clocking off at 5pm. But a recent survey here found 60% of parents say work commitments have a real impact on quality of family life. Almost 30% work at weekends in their own time, 18% miss their children’s sporting/ events, 17% don’t get back home from work in time for dinner and 9% return to work immediately afterwards.
It’s common to be working 50+ hours weekly. Next year it will be 55+ hours, the next year 60+ hours and so on. The goal posts keep moving. And with phones that link us directly to emails, many people are literally switched on to work 24/7.
It’s exhausting! In Japan, death due to burn-out is actually a recognized phenomenon termed Karoshi.
When will the goal posts stop moving? When does someone say to their staff or to themselves “You’ve worked enough hours today/ this week/ this month? Don’t do any more. Take longer lunch breaks. Go home earlier”? It is pretty rare!
And yet, the more we balance our work with rest and play, the more productive we are!
Keys to more balance; less doing, more being
- Let’s take some ownership back where we can, for living in a way that makes us FEEL good and in balance. We want our lives to nourish us in all ways of mind and body.
- I love this saying, ‘Stop the glorification of busy’. As a friend then said “Let’s celebrate the slow in life”.
- Define yourself by measures other than your status at work. Spend time being a great friend to others and most importantly to yourself (~ that doesn’t always mean having more friends or likes on Facebook!) .
- Love being outdoors in nature, with pets and animals, in the garden, playing in the surf or snow, painting, drawing and creating, writing poems, cooking for yourself and others, feeling the breath in your body while moving to Tai Chi, dance, yoga and loving the stillness of meditation.
- Allow yourself to do things for no other reason than they are fun. “Il dolce far niente” is a beautiful Italian saying, which means the ‘sweetness of doing nothing’. This is enjoying an activity without a need for a goal or objective, like playing in the waves! There is a great TED talk by Gavin Pretor encouraging this, with a nice way to spend time in the practice of doing nothing!
- Decide on a time you stop checking work emails, ideally at least 2 hours or more before going to sleep. How about giving your weekends a break from them altogether?
- At the end of the day say to yourself “I have done enough today”. Say it now. Notice how that makes you feel. Whenever I say this, I feel a weight lift off my shoulders and feel a tension easing and a feeling of space. It’s lovely.
- And finally when you meet someone new, try asking them “What do you enjoy getting up to?”
Janine Lattimore says
Thanks Clarice, a great post. I especially like your last ‘tip’ – when you meet someone new, try asking them “What do you enjoy getting up to?”. To live life differently we need to shift our focus and often our values – valuing happiness over busy-ness, contentment over acquisition, people over tasks. I know that takes some effort, but I’m also having a wake-up call and realising how important it is to living a long, quality life.
Lovely to meet you today and looking forward to our next appointment, reading some of the books you recommended (downloaded ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ today) and reading some more of your posts. Nice blog.
In this decade, more than others, it seems hard for most of us to find a rhythm – to the day, the week, the month, the year. Maybe it is social media, maybe boomers moving through the world and transitioning to a different kind of busy. Those entering the workforce having less hope for the future. They are bombarded with stats like never before. I had college debt. I think mine may have been more overwhelming in certain ways. It was more of a private matter, not openly discussed.
Busy? Yes, we have all been busy our whole lives, whether it is doing something actively or passively, we are busy doing something. Remember to breathe!