When you ask someone how they’ve been lately, how often do you hear, “I’ve been busy”? In fact, letting someone know that you are busy has become a reflex response for many of us, worn like a badge of honour. Especially in the early years of our careers as we start to establish ourselves and work our way up the ladder, the word busy is used like a status symbol – implying that we are sought after and highly productive. After all, if our schedules are packed, we must be doing something right, right?
I have struggled with the label of busy-ness for a while. But the impact of perceived busy-ness hit me once again recently when I was talking to a friend about an event that she went to by herself that I would have loved to be at. When I told her how much I would have loved to attend, she looked at me and replied, “I didn’t want to ask because I know how busy you always are.”
This really unsettled me. Firstly, what kind of friend was I that led my friends to somehow believe that I didn’t have enough time for them? And further to that, how much else was I missing because of this percieved busy-ness?
Although I may have thought this a few years ago, I’ve learnt the hard way that being busy doesn’t mean we’re being productive, that we’re succeeding, and it certainly does not mean that we are indispensable – all things that being busy can almost feel synonymous with. Unfortunately, it is far too easy to mistake the perpetual motion of constantly being busy with using time in a meaningful way. Maxing out our time comes at a cost. One that I have paid at times as my busy-ness impacted the quality of my relationships, my work and my physical health.
Although it is easy to fill your schedule to the max, here are 5 things I have learned about being busy:
- Being busy leads to missed opportunities. So many amazing things can come up when we least expect them. And being busy closes us to them. From missing out on getting to go in a corporate box at the rugby (this happened) to not being able to go to a premier of a movie (this happened too) because last minute invitations just don’t fit in your schedule or you just don’t get asked – there are so many things that you can miss.
- Being busy can lead people to not reach out even when they need someone to reach out to. No one wants to feel like they are putting someone out. And when you are perceived as being busy, it’s very easy for people to not want to reach out – almost for fear of being turned down.
- Being busy stops you being present. It’s hard to enjoy the moment when you know you have so many moments ahead of you that you have to organise or prepare for.
- Being busy can lead to multitasking. Aside from the fact that juggling so many balls can inevitably lead to mistakes being made, unsurprisingly, research has shown that time urgency, which is often an outcome of a busy lifestyle, is linked to a range of negative outcomes, such as poor interpersonal relationships and higher levels of stress.
- Being busy stops you from resting when you need to, which is critical to our health and wellbeing. It’s easy to ignore our exhausted bodies and minds when they are not on our schedules. But it inevidably always catches up with us.
Taking time out is powerful. Just check out this TED talk by Stefan Sagmeister:
Instead of even saying that I’m busy now, I now refer to life as being full. Don’t get me wrong – I still squeeze a fair bit into life. But when I stopped calling life “busy”, I felt a shift. Because I no longer felt like I was too busy anymore. A busy life feels overwhelming and closed. A full life feels abundant – open for friends, opportunities and myself.
I don’t need to fill each moment with activities to maximise time. Time is maximised by fully engaging. Taking time out. Focusing on tasks. Having enough energy to reach goals by taking the appropriate time out to rest. And sometimes, just being.