In recent times, everyone seems to be busier than usual. For some, it’s a façade. For others, it’s their reality. Busyness is now so commonplace that people automatically assume you must be busy once you’re unreachable or unavailable.
Think about it.
In the past week, how many times have you used the word busy or its variation? Be honest. It’s probably higher than you would have imagined. Somehow, someway, we have all fallen into the busy trap.
The Busy Trap
I grew up in a society that frowns on idleness. Dail, it was beaten into my ear that an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. Invariably, I assumed- as I’m sure that many of us also did – that this meant I must always be doing something. That’s how most of us were raised.
The quintessential young man must seem busy, or people will think he is not working towards success. The husband who leaves home early and comes back late, barring any moral flaws, is the status symbol for hard work. You’re not considered half as responsible if you work from home. Thus, to be acknowledged as people of value, we like to appear busy.
Again, people take pride in being able to multitask. People believe multitasking improves productivity and cram every minute full of activity. The more things you can do at once (or claim to be able to do), the more focused and successful people think you are. This becomes another lure into the busy trap.
Another reason worth considering is the failure to prioritise. Some things are important. Others are urgent. Some are neither important nor urgent. Failure to prioritise what’s important and urgent over what is not is a significant pitfall of the busy trap.
Not-too Pleasant Consequences
From the outside, being constantly busy may seem like a good thing. It isn’t. Not according to science. Such a state drains the body and mind and causes negative consequences. Let’s see a few.
- Physical Health: Often, people who are too busy, have no time to take care of their bodies. They also tend to get little sleep and eat haphazardly. All of this leads to a gradual decline in physical health.
- Burnout and Stress: Feeling busy is a recipe for burnout. When you busy yourself with things that don’t matter under the guise of doing stuff, you expend creative energy that may be better used. If it continues long enough, it will break you, leading us to my next point on mental health.
- Mental Health: When you’re too busy, you give the mind too many things to focus on. In Seneca’s opinion, “No one pursuit can be successfully followed by a man who is preoccupied with many things…since the mind, when distracted, takes in nothing very deeply, but rejects everything that is, as it were, crammed into it.” This means that constant busyness leads to a decline in mental health.
- Thankfulness: When you’re busy, you are rarely unable to pause long enough to enjoy the sights and beauties of life. And that robs you of the spirit of thanksgiving, a devastating way to walk through life.
Escaping the Busy Trap
Don’t get me wrong. It is possible to be truly busy. A paper by the Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience even suggests that the busier you get, the better your cognition. The idea is to have a real reason to be busy and to avoid a constant state of activity (when it doesn’t have to be). So how do you cope with that?
Refine your Goals
It’s impressive to say you read 52 books a year but more books don’t translate to more transformation.
The focus shouldn’t be on how much time you spend doing something or how much activity you get done but on the impact of every completed activity. So, reframe your goals to focus on your outputs.
Sure, saying you read one book that deeply changed your life isn’t all that impressive, but what does that matter? Continuous learning is taking place, transformation is occurring, and you’re not dying for it to happen.
Everyone should know and use Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix. It distinguishes four levels of tasks.
- Urgent and important
- Urgent but not important
- Important but not urgent
- Not important and not urgent
The idea is to focus on class A tasks, delegate class B tasks, plan to do class C tasks, and delete class D tasks. Doing this can help you cut through the clutter of activities and focus on what is truly important:
Free time is not necessarily unproductive time. The truth is that scheduled free time is a major weapon of the world’s greatest minds. You’ll be amazed at what your mind can produce in a moment of solitude.
Try it. Spend 20 mins every day for seven days away from technology, books, and any form of human interaction. Simply sit still and let your mind wander. Once you push through the noise, you’ll be amazed at the superb ideas lurking just beyond your consciousness.
It’s time we all take a stand. If you have to be busy, it must be truly worth it. Otherwise, refine your goals to give you breathing space, prioritise tasks, and practice solitude.
Be sure to share your thoughts with me on this piece.