Escaping the Culture of Busyness

How busy are you this fine day? Busy as a bee, right? After all, we live in a culture of busyness. It’s almost assumed. You’re doing all the things. You’re parenting, working, planning, cleaning, socializing, playing, chauffeuring, scheduling, and perhaps carrying the mental load of managing a household. The list is endless. And you’re knocking it out of the park! You really are! 

We’re created to be productive, to contribute, to add value. We get a deep sense of satisfaction when we work hard at something and see it come to fruition. Yet, I would argue that being busy and being productive don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Sometimes life is busier than other times, for sure. And, if you’re someone who thrives on the rush of having a packed schedule and you feel content in your busyness, more power to you. It’s great to have the self awareness to know what makes you tick. Or, perhaps you don’t love the crazy pace of life right now, but it truly seems necessary as you’re juggling everything life throws your way. Maybe you’re caring for loved ones, starting a new job, or going back to school.

I would simply like to offer some strategies for anyone with a nagging sense of feeling toooooo busy and too tired of running around at 100 mph.

I often saw this in my corporate career. People’s schedules are filled with meetings. So many meetings – some productive and needed, some not so much. Do we question why we’re doing something? Or are we just moving from one thing to the next? It seems socially acceptable, even admirable, to be busy. And there’s this underlying sense of busyness as a badge of honor. After all, if you’re busy, you’re valuable. You’re important. Heck, you’re indispensable. Right?! 

culture of busyness, quote that being busy does not equal being productive

Well, there’s a lot of research on the positive correlation between stillness/quieting your mind and innovation. Google has famously adopted a 20% time philosphy, giving its’ engineers one day a week to work on whatever they want – projects that interest them but may be outside of their day to day job responsibilities. It’s in this space of mental freedom that we can really listen. And this listening can open up thought to be receptive to those innovative ideas and aha moments. We’re not looking to put the brakes on the doing. Doing is necessary. We’re just looking for some mindfulness and intentionality which can often come from slowing down.

Here are some suggestions for how to get off the busy train. 

Adjust your schedule to align with your values. 

If you’re volunteering at the school out of a feeling of obligation, but it’s not your jam, there are other ways to contribute. If you are spending hours cleaning your house because of how others may perceive you, but you are personally ok with it as is, then stop! You do you. You do NOT need to buy into the culture of busyness! This is not selfish. It will bring out the best version of you. And this best version will inevitably show up as the best _____ (employee, leader, spouse, friend, mom, etc) for others.

Schedule down time.

It would be nice to think we can carve out down time simply by hoping it will happen, or loosely planning for it. But many of us are so accustomed to living by our calendars, so embrace that by scheduling down time just like you would schedule a meeting. This is a really effective strategy because it increases the likelihood that you’ll follow through. It could be just for 1/2 hour. Maybe it’s right before bed, or when the baby is napping, or during lunch hour. You’ll be amazed at how refreshed you feel after taking some time to recharge. Take a walk, connect with a loved one, or whatever else it is that fills your tank.

culture of busyness, daily planner shown, reinforcing text which suggests scheduling down time into your day.

Consider outsourcing. 

Warning: Side effects may include extreme feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Having someone else clean your home when you’re perfectly capable? Yes! It is ok. I understand this may not be in your budget, so consider other ways to share the responsibility with other family members. Your daughter has a ton of energy and enjoys being on the move? Great! She can be in charge of swiffering or an active outside chore.

Other free ways to outsource include swapping kid care with friends or family so you can enjoy some me time or a night out. 

Set a time limit for tasks. 

Are you familiar with the clever children’s book series by Laura Joffe Numeroff? Titles include If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The idea is that one thing leads to the next. If you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll ask for some milk. When you give him some milk, this triggers something else, and so on. In adult speak, when we open the fridge to start dinner, we notice that we’re low on milk. We add milk to the grocery list, but realize the pens in our junk drawer are running low. And, my that junk drawer is a mess. Let’s just take a minute to organize that. And. And. And. What were we having for dinner again? 

If we don’t tell our day how it’s going to roll, the day tells us. Then, we don’t get to the true priorities on our list, which compounds our feeling of busyness, as we move those items to tomorrow’s already full list.

Instead, set a timer for household tasks and walk away after that. It’s amazing how productive we can be when we stay focused for a short amount of time. I’d suggest 10-20 minutes, depending on the task.

Culture of busyness, picture of a clock to reinforce the text which suggests setting a timer to increase efficiency with tasks.

Acknowledge that you are in the driver’s seat of your life. 

But… my work requires me to be in meetings all day. But…my kids are little and need me 24/7. I hear you. I hear you, sister. However. You are not a slave to your schedule. Let me repeat. You. Are. Not. A. Slave. To. Your. Schedule. Question the need for another meeting! Ask that your kids wait 2 seconds before giving them a glass of water while you step outside for a breath of fresh air! It is ok. Verbalize to loved ones that you’re looking for ideas and support for how to steer of the culture of busyness and watch as they come up to bat for you. You are in the driver’s seat of your life.