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On Busyness…

“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another-and ourselves.” Jack Kornfield
I am so familiar with busyness! Are you?
You’ll often find me multitasking like a whirring dervish with multiple hands and a false belief that there are more than 24 hours in the day. Busyness can often start when we become a parent, and the juggle struggle begins. As we make up bottles, stir the dinner, fold up washing, worry about a work problem or consider the child care conundrum all at once, we get a strange sense that in the new landscape of parenthood we can only cope when we do it all, and we do it now.
But busyness is a fast track away from our true, happy, connected self and those we care about. Yes, the tasks might get done but they take us further away from the things that make us happy, and closer to being an automaton ticking boxes and measuring our worth by the lines on our to do list. Busyness a sign that we are not in balance and it can lead us to burnout.
We can get overbusy for a number of reasons:
  • Maybe we use it as a way to escape our own thoughts, feelings about ourselves, or situations in our life? Maybe it masks a lack of connection or loneliness?
  • Maybe we think it’s (ironically) an antidote to stress? If we’re on top of everything, then the stress will go away. But sadly, it doesn’t tend to work like that.
  • Maybe it’s a status symbol? Have you ever heard someone say they’re ‘crazy busy’ with a wry smile and sense of satisfaction?
  • Maybe it’s a pattern you didn’t realise you’d fallen into until you find yourself watching a webinar at midnight, while writing birthday cards, and planning the week’s meals? You should be asleep or resting, but you’re on a treadmill of to dos and there never seems to be enough time.
Why is that? Are busy people just bad schedulers? Over achievers? Or is it something deeper?
We can often find it hard to say no, (hello people pleasers!) but busyness tends to be a mask for a range of other reasons.
We can see being busy as who we are, as our purpose, because we lack self esteem.
We can use it as a guard against parts of ourselves or our lives that we don’t want to admit to or confront.
We can believe that busy is good because that was the way we got validation as a child or how our parents showed ‘success’.

What might you be using busyness to run from?

Does it equal purpose to you?
Is it a learned behaviour?
What impact is it having?
Busyness can often lead to isolation from those around us as we spend our lives living in our heads, and scheduling our loved ones. We can lose the sense of possibility that going with the flow, having time for ourselves, or spontaneity brings. I know that in the past 6 months where I have worked harder than ever before, I’ve been less connected with people I care about and more connected with the tasks ahead. It’s not healthy for my relationships with others or myself.
Brené Brown writes about numbing behaviours that we use as armour against vulnerability in her book, Daring Greatly. If you think numbing doesn’t apply to you because you don’t have a drink or drugs issue or lockdown over-shopping is absolutely acceptable, think again. Brené writes “One of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call crazy-busy. I often say that when they start having 12-step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums. We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.”
So how can we counter the lure of Crazy-Busy and climb down from the tower of ‘always on’?
  • Get quiet and ask why – what is about being busy that satisfies or secures you? It’s ok to hear whatever answer comes up. It’s between you and you! It’s up to you if you share or do anything about it, but knowing why can help us to stop behaviours.
  • Breathe and meditate – if busyness is a way to escape your thoughts, then I can highly recommend breathing exercises to bring you to the present moment and stop your thoughts running away. Sit quietly, breathe in deeply and exhale loudly, and ask yourself the simplest of questions – what do I need now? How can I be more connected? What is holding me back? And allow yourself to let the thoughts come, until there are no more. It might take 15 minutes or 3 hours. But keep breathing, keep calm. There is gold in self reflection.
  • Find alternatives – maybe the shine of your kitchen gives you pleasure, but could you use those skills in another way to serve your needs, and others? Maybe you could volunteer to help a neighbour or friend? Could you start a little side gig baking or cleaning? Could you set yourself a goal – like learning how to run or sing – clear the decks of busy tasks and use the time to enrich yourself?
  • Stop multitasking – do one thing at a time. It’s allowed! You are allowed to be intentional and immersed and in flow, the state where we tune into the activity we’re doing and immerse ourselves completely. Not only does stopping multitasking mean we’ll likely do the job better, it means we’ll slow our racing brain down, reduce our stress levels, and train ourselves to be in the moment. What multitasking does is keep us forever in a future moment, looking ahead to a conveyor belt of obligations. Stop. Pause. Do one thing. Seriously, it will slow you down physically, and over time, will slow your stress responses.
  • Be realistic – we all have 168 hours in a week. We can’t magic more time, so let’s get honest. Make a list and chop it in half. Give yourself 3 priority tasks in a day and schedule in time for yourself. Work how you work best and stick to that – check out the Pomodoro technique, or google Getting Things Done. There are lots of productivity hacks, and if you’re not worried about missing deadlines or chores, you might have the space to allow yourself to succeed and to delight in the things you have done, not the ones you haven’t.
  • Outsource and delegate – give away your tasks where you can, and also your worries. Share them with us, tell a friend – if you can remove some of the noise in your head, you might find that actually your busyness is slowing you down, and keeping you from what’s really important.
  • Self care – yep, my favourite thing! Schedule it in, make time for it, allow yourself to get comfortable with doing less of the things that don’t directly nurture you. It’s good for you and for your family.
  • Decide what is important – not everything will get done, and that’s ok. Making choices over what gets done and what doesn’t is in your gift. What’s more important? The dishes or a chat with your child? (I’ll take the chat any day, but maybe you could talk over the sink?) Allow yourself to choose what gets done and what is sacred to you.
And of course, gratitude can help too… try being grateful for all you’ve managed to do, or for recognising you’re using busyness as a distraction technique or escapism. Share your gratitudes – busyness related or not – in the comments!
And how does busyness manifest for you? I’d love to hear more about how it feels for you and what you need to slow it down. 

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