When I run into a friend on the street or at work, and I ask them how they are, the answer is usually ”Busy.” When was the last time you ran into someone who said: “I am fabulous?”
In today’s society, being busy is both an addiction and a medal of honor. Throughout much of my 30s, I won many awards in the Busy Olympics. I was proud of the fact that my days were jam-packed. I would start working at 6 am with email, get the kids ready, be in the office by 8 am, work all day, pick up the kids, make dinner, and then back to more email. I bragged about being the queen of busyness. While waiting for my children, I would start a conversation with fellow working moms. We would end up in a debate of which one of us was the ‘most’ busy. We would talk about how we had no time for ourselves and how dedicated we were to our jobs, children, and spouses.
Although a lot is going on and a vast amount that we do, we have also become prone to creating hectic lifestyles to avoid any deep thought or reflection. I was terrified of what would happen if I slowed down. Being busy can make us feel important and valued. It helps us feel like we are enough. For example, if I am busy at work, then I must be successful. If I am busy at home, then I must be a fabulous mom. Like countless women, being busy is a source of validation.
Although I was addicted to being busy, I was stressed, exhausted, and miserable. The data tell us the largest issue with busyness is the impact it has on our health. Stress caused by being so busy can significantly impact our physical and mental health. Stress puts our brain into overdrive, which affects our immune system and cardiovascular system.
The other impact of being busy is regret and guilt. The guilt that comes with knowing you are not present for the moments that matter. The guilt that comes with knowing you are not taking care of yourself. The guilt that comes with living with stress and anxiety day after day. I have worked with so many clients who love the busyness but have forgotten how to live a life with joy.
The good news
The good news is there are things we can do to slow down and break our addiction to being busy. Once we break this addiction, our health improves, and we start to reclaim our lives and careers.
Embrace your values
Values are the baseline of everything we do. Understanding our core values is one of the most important tools we have to help our decisions. How many times, when faced with a choice, do we put the facts down on paper. We look at things such as short term criticality, urgency, financial challenges, and impact. Whether it’s a life decision or career decision, how often do we step back and determine how these decisions align with what is essential? Note that what is important has nothing to do with urgency and impact.
The challenge is we do not always live aligned to our values. For example, one of our values may be family. When we are home, we are preoccupied with work and rarely give our children focus. Another example may be the value of courage. When we work at a job we hate, are we living with the value of courage? Do we have the courage to find a job we love?
One of the first things I do with my clients is to help them get aligned on their core values. Once you understand your core values, you unlock clarity, confidence, and reduce stress. The need to ‘fill the time’ with busyness starts to diminish.
When you have a decision to make, see how it aligns with your values and what is important to you.
Let your mind rest
Holy cow our minds are busy. They are full of to-do lists, anxiety, stress, and fears. Many times our inner world is as busy as our outer world. We are terrified of the silence. We are frightened of stopping. If we stop and pause, what will happen? Will we not be worthy?
The challenge is we need time to rest our mind. We need time to reflect. We need this mind-space to take back control over our lives, our decisions and re-discover happiness. I am not talking about physical sleep. But time to relax, turn off the brain for a bit and do something you love. Resting gives us fuel. It gives us energy for the rest of our day.
I have my clients schedule some downtime during the day. They add it to their calendar. This is time to relax, rest your mind, listen to music, or go for a walk.
Become comfortable with the words “I choose”
Make the words I choose become part of your vocabulary. Instead of doing 100 things, you need to choose what to do and what not do. You can choose to have the laundry done later in the week. You can choose to get take out versus cooking for 45 minutes. You can choose to turn off email at night.
When are you are asked whether to take on a task, pause for a moment. Remember you are in control of each decision. You get to choose yes or no.
Shift how you think about being busy
We are not forced to be crazy busy. Being crazy busy is a choice. Once we see the choices we make, we can start to own them.
But, we have to want to stop being busy. We have to want to reclaim our power. As long as we see being busy as a sign of worthiness or a badge of honor, it will be impossible to let it go.
For me, a cancer crisis brought my busyness to a grinding halt. Do not let this get to the point where a health crisis slows you down. Practice making choices. Be conscious of your decisions based on your values. Gradually, the importance of being busy will start to diminish.
Close your eyes for a few minutes. Take a deep breath. Visualize what your life would look like if you were not as busy. What would your relationships look like? How would you wake up each morning? What exciting things could you do with the time you now have? What would living life a bit slower mean to you?
I challenge you to try these tools for two weeks. Try to spend one week being conscious of the busyness in your life and the choices you make. I would love to hear how the week turns out.