Busy is the New Black

Busy walking to the next place.

Busy walking to the next place.

I can’t remember the last time I was bored. If ever. I’ve always been quite good at entertaining myself and there’s always more I want to do than I can ever find time for. This is awesome because I’m never bored. Life is perpetually a grand adventure (Not all of it entirely desired but adventure nonetheless.) as I’m always learning and exploring.   

But this can also come with the dark side of being too busy. Being too busy leads to feeling overwhelmed, anxious, sad, and angry. There’s also this weird side effect of not actually getting much done. Even though we’re “so busy.”

Being busy has become an epidemic. So often now when someone asks how we’re doing, our response is no longer, “Good” or “Absolutely terrible” but “Busy (None of which are great answers to that question by the way, but we’ll discuss that another time.).” We wear busy as a badge of honor. As if by answering, “Busy,” we’re somehow good, accomplished, and important.

This is what burnout looks like.

This is what burnout looks like.

Yet there’s historic burnout taking place. Parents are burnt out from working, taking their kids to a million activities, and trying to have some semblance of their own life. Kids are burnt out from the million activities before they even begin to think about college. And adults without kids are burnt out from taking themselves to a million activities and/or jobs that have unreasonable expectations.

The upside is we’re becoming aware that this is a problem. Everyone’s talking about it. Forbes and Psychology Today both wrote articles with the same title “Are You Addicted to Being Busy?” The thing about awareness, though, is that alone, it doesn’t create change.

So once you know you have a problem what do you do about it?

The irony in this situation is that you don’t do as much.

But where do you make cuts? “I can’t quit my job.” Why not? Or of course not, I get it. “My kids have to be in all these activities for their middle school applications.” Middle school applications! Really?!

Mindful awareness.

Mindful awareness.

Of course, I can’t tell you exactly what to cut out of your life. Only you can make those choices for yourself. But I can tell you how I attempt to do this for myself. At least as much as possible since it's an ongoing and I imagine lifelong process.

Overall I take a mindful approach to simplify my life as much as possible.

I know my priorities. I remind myself of them often. And I reassess as needed. Priorities shift.

Once you figure out your priorities, you have to then prioritize them. That means setting boundaries.

If family is at the top of the list, tell your boss no, you can’t work another Saturday. If you’re good enough at your job you won’t get fired. And if you do get fired, that means you were so indispensible you can probably easily find the same job somewhere else, ideally with someone more supportive of your life goals.

An important lesson I’ve learned is that if you say yes too often, people will take advantage of you. Not always because they're jerks (although sometimes they are), but because you haven't told them what your limit is. Some people might like working every Saturday?

What’s truly important to you?

What’s truly important to you?

P.S., Priorities are what bring meaning to you life. The things that make it worth living. That which makes your heart sing.

I set and evaluate goals. In all areas of my life. Part of goal setting is frequently checking in on your progress and which activities actually produce the most output toward those goals. I follow the 80-20 rule in that 80% of results comes from 20% of my effort. When I find myself suffering from burnout, it's almost always related to spending time on activities that don't contribute much-if anything-to my goals. Learn to set those boundaries, let go, and delegate. It will save your life and increase productivity.

I create space. I try really hard not to schedule every second of the day. You never know what unexpected adventure will pop up and you might need that spare time. And if you nothing pops up, simply having some unexpected time to work on a project, read a book, take a nap, talk to a friend, or just breathe is a gift.

I also relish the unexpected space. I’ve always had a pretty active social calendar, but in the past when I’d find myself without plans on Friday night, I’d get bummed out. Or if someone kept me waiting or cancelled a meeting, I’d become supremely annoyed. Now I get so stoked about surprise free time because I don't always get that. I’ve learned to appreciate both the active life I live and the slower times. Each has their place and balance between the two is incredibly important.

I never say no to this!

I never say no to this!

I say no. Unless you say no to everything, saying no can be your best friend. It helps you set your goals and priorities. It communicates your boundaries to others. This used to be pretty difficult for me. I'm a recovering people pleaser. And I hate missing out on anything.

As kids, many of us receive the message that we can't say no. We aren’t the boss of ourselves. Our parents or teachers or other adult has the final say. And if the consequence is great enough (All that had to happen to me was to have soccer taken away once and I was under your command!) we won’t challenge it.

But now we're grown ups (Unless you're a kid reading this. In which case you have something to look forward to as you age.) and as grownups we don't have to do anything other people want us to. Of course, we can make the choice to do what others want if it’s in line with our own goals and values and that can be helpful at times in preserving relationships and moving ahead in life. If we’re too selfish no one will want to be our friend or help us when we need it.

As far as missing out on anything goes, no matter what choice you make you're missing out on something. If you go to a party with friends, you miss out on a good book and bubble bath. And if it’s a really good party, you’ll probably miss out on seeing the light of day the next morning. So make peace with missing out.

Sure, saying no will disappoint some people, but you aren't responsible for anyone else's feelings (Another childhood myth.). Only your own. And if you're burnt out you're no fun to be around anyway.

It really isn’t all that cool to be busy. Plus everyone’s tired of hearing about it. And when you aren’t as busy, you’ll have way more time to come up with a way better answer to, “How are ya?”