Sometimes life feels crazy busy. Constantly jumping from one thing to the next, interruptions from the kids, work, preparing food, running errands, housework, educating the kids, and trying to occasionally have more than a three word conversation with my husband. Every spare minute is filled with something – quickly unloading the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, checking Facebook, or starting dinner. Many of us feel completely overwhelmed by the unrelenting nature of modern life.
My husband tells me to just slow down, take a minute to relax. I automatically respond with contempt, assuming he is being lazy – preferring to sit and relax rather than help (which is entirely untrue). And when I do try to sit down and relax, I usually just think of all the things I should be doing. There’s always something else to be done.
As usual, my husband is right, and I can actually learn a thing or two from him. I realised that how busy I feel isn’t directly related to how busy I actually am. Depending on my mindset, completing the same number of tasks can feel crazy busy, or relatively relaxed and peaceful.
One of the things that prevents us from letting go of the sensation of busyness is the fact that in today’s society busyness has become a status symbol. Being busy implies that we are productive, valued, and important. Stopping to relax is often equated to laziness or lack of ambition. We need to ignore these societal views, and be okay with not being busy. We can even learn to create and embrace slow and quiet times in our lives.
How do we stop feeling or being busy? Let’s talk about six things you can do to get started.
- Are your expectations higher than what you can manage? Make a list of the areas you have responsibility over, such as ‘housework’, ‘committee meetings’, ‘school runs’, ‘food preparation’, ‘personal fitness’. For each area, think carefully about exactly what your expectations are, and what you are realistically achieving. Are there any areas in which you can reduce your expectations? Reducing your expectations in one area may free-up some extra time and energy to achieve more in another area. For example, if you expect yourself to go for a run every day but really only go for a run once a week, then you may constantly feel like you are underachieving and feel negative about yourself. If you adjust your expectation to one run a week, then you are completing the same amount of exercise as you were previously, but now feel good about yourself for achieving your goal. If you lower your culinary expectations (take out once a week, or eggs & baked beans) or decide your house could stand being a little less clean, then you may actually be able to run 3 or 4 days a week. There may be areas where you can outsource or delegate more than you are.
- Practice saying “no”. Even for those of you who don’t think you have too much on your plate, you probably do. Everything you do takes away from something else, and we are often happier focusing-in on fewer things. The first step is to say ‘no’ to things you don’t really want to do. The second step is saying ‘no’ to things you do want to do. We are constantly bombarded by wonderful opportunities, and like to think we can do everything. If only we can be more organised, rejig our schedule, have a more efficient morning routine, buy a new diary app, or figure out how to teleport. Not only can we not do everything, but we sacrifice happiness and peace in the attempt. Most things we have on our to do list just don’t matter. It will have minimal impact upon our lives if we just never do them. Tim Kreider wrote about this in the New York Times, saying “I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter”. I highly recommend reading his entire article.
- Don’t overload your schedule. As you say ‘no’ to more non-essential activities, you will feel under less pressure to double or triple book yourself. It’s okay to watch TV without also folding the washing. You can help your child with homework without doing the washing up at the same time. Leave gaps in between things you need to do, rather than rushing from one thing to the next. Leave a large gap of unstructured time at least once a week. Plan to have downtime. You’ve earned it!
- Be intentional when deciding how to fill your time. We may say we just don’t have time to read books anymore, or go for a walk, or phone our friends. Often we do have time, we just choose to spend it doing something else. TV in the evenings is a good example – it’s easy to sit down to watch one show, and then before you know it you’ve watched 3 or 4 shows and it’s time for bed. Now this is fine if you really enjoy it and it’s giving you some good relaxation. But if it’s just a habit and you don’t really like it that much anyway, you are better off thinking carefully about how you spend those hours. Make sure you are spending your time how you really want to, and not in some default automatic way, or just being busy for the sake of being busy.
- Stop saying you are busy! Next time someone asks what you’ve been up to, resist the temptation to say you’ve been busy. The language we use shapes how we view our life and the world. Sometimes we feel put on the spot by this question, and if no particular things spring to mind we feel as though it will come across as if we have been doing nothing or being lazy. It’s easy to jump in with a quick “oh gosh, I’ve been so busy…” while we form our thoughts of what we’ll actually say. It’s far more interesting to pause and think for a moment, then pick one or two specific things you’ve been doing and talk about them. Perhaps even talk about how much you appreciated some down time you had – the afternoon you just played lego with your child, or walked on the beach with a friend.
- Schedule leisure time. Do you plan to have some quiet times, but something always seems to come up? It can be helpful to put it in your diary and treat it as an important event that takes priority over nearly everything else. If someone asks you to do something, just tell them “I have a prior commitment then, how about next week?”. Unfortunately we tend to value all other activities over time to relax, rejuvenate, and look after ourselves.
You are the only person has control over your life, and only you can choose to be and feel busy. Choose, instead, to pause frequently and enjoy life. Avoid the trap of pushing yourself to your limits to achieve some mythical future time when you will have achieved what you want to and can then enjoy the fruits of your labour. Our life is the journey. Enjoy the journey!