My break-up with busy
I’ve heard it said that “busy” is our new “fine.” Casually ask someone how they’re doing today, and on autopilot, they might say they’re fine—but chances are good they’ll add, “Fine, but busy. You?”
It’s like we don’t even think “busy” is a unique, situational status in our lives. It’s strange to not be busy. No one answers that polite greeting with, “Fine—finished my to-do list yesterday and had time to leisurely work on my [insert hobby] before going to bed at a decent hour.”
Most of my work-related emails (read: requests for favors regarding book endorsements, product placements, podcast pitches, or social media mentions) begin with this otherwise benign sentiment: “I know you’re super busy, but….”
It’s like we assume busy is the default.
Most of the time, gratefully, my default is full, not busy, and I like it this way. I’m a proud owner of the word “no,” and I’m continually learning this powerful lesson of essentialism: there are very few things in life we “have” to do, and those things are the things we should do well. To do this, we need to say no to most everything else.
Here’s the occasional problem with all this, though: Sometimes, we just have to be busy. Even when we’re intentional and proactive with the boundaries around our time and talents, life sometimes happen.
This is me this week. We’ve got something every. single. evening (including a board meeting I’m attending a few hours after writing this), my mom’s 60th birthday party is this weekend, I’m recording three podcasts in two days, and I’m up to my eyeballs in book edits. One kid has a doctor’s appointment that can’t be rescheduled, another kid has a birthday party to attend (too bad I can’t ask his friend to reschedule that), and our daughter’s volleyball coach suggested an extra evening of practice before Friday’s big game. I’m writing this from the waiting room of my son’s speech therapy clinic.
I’m sure you can’t relate.
Except that of course you can. We all have weeks like this. Our big-picture efforts to break the busy with our time, relationships, and capacity can still be punked by a seriously off week, when it feels like the entire world needs you right now.
Here’s the one thing I’m learning to do during a crazy-busy week and it feels so counterintuitive, I still don’t quite believe I do this: I stop. And I go on a walk.
When life hands me one of these weeks, I do the opposite of what the world around me is pressuring me to do. I actually take more time to slow down, to listen, to sleep, to read for pleasure.
I paddle upstream from our culture that worships the word “busy,” and I take time to become even stronger to handle the to-do list in front of me.
Hear me out: I don’t jettison my responsibilities and go running off in the sunset. No, I still do my “have tos.” But in between those things, I fight the urge to panic and stress, and instead, do things I know will recenter me.
I go on a leisurely walk.
I read a novel.
I do a bit of yoga.
I watch a bit of Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Fallon on YouTube.
I vox with a friend.
I go to bed even earlier.
I take care of me. Because a me that’s better taken care of will handle that abnormally busy week with much more strength, centeredness, and perspective. And just like clockwork, a new week shows up, and life goes on.
One of my dearest friends, Alli Worthington, just wrote a book about breaking the busy, and I can’t think of a better person to pen it. I used to lovingly call her “NASA” because she launched so many things (she’s full of great ideas)—but then one day, she found her reset button. (Okay, it probably wasn’t suddenly one day, but it seemed that way to me.)
Alli has figured out how to find peace and purpose in our world of utter crazy, and I couldn’t be prouder or more “Amen!”er of her new book, Breaking Busy. I feel more grounded and at peace in reading just the titles of her chapters:
If you’re dying for a bit of permission to break the busy, it helps to have a tool that teaches you how to stop chasing what leaves you empty and instead do what you were created to do. This is a fantastic tool—and it’s funny, too.
If you like this blog, if you like the podcast here, and if you like our e-course, you will eat up Breaking Busy. It’s a “hallelujah!” kind of manifesto we need in our lives.
Say no to busy as a way of life, my friend. And when life hands you a random crazy-busy week, go the opposite course and intentionally slow down. You need it, and your to-do list needs it, too.
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