Frequently we all hear it, and many of us say it as a response to simple questions like, “How was your day?”, “What’s going on at work?”, “Can you help with something?”. In 2021, an instant response to thoughtful inquiries is often an unfortunate 4-letter word: BUSY. And busy doesn’t necessarily mean happy.
While it’s true that people are probably busier than ever, it’s important that we take a closer look at the idea of busyness and ask ourselves, and each other in charity, if busyness is really a mask, covering something else? I vacillate between owning my busyness and calling it ‘efficiency’, and desperately claiming freedom from activity. I try to strike a balance that makes sense for my life. Most days begin at 4:30am, include quality time with the kids, a workout, and hard work until 4:30pm. When my kids come home, the phone gets put away, meetings are not taken, and family time takes priority until their bedtime. I do a few things on social media or writing, spend quality time with my husband, and then sleep. This is possible for me because I figured out what help needs to look like for us--the kids go to daycare, we have a housekeeper, and we plan and schedule everything. My husband is a public servant, as the director of two departments and works between 45-55 hours a week. I hold a full time job and am passionate about my career, adding on a role in a retained search firm, a new non-profit, writing books, coaching clients, taking speaking engagements all while being the mom of two small kids. I prioritize my commitments to workouts, friendships, service, family, and marriage. So, when I say that I vacillate between owning my busyness and claiming some freedom from activity, I truly mean it. But I’m not perfect.
Understanding the distinction between being busy and being effective might be the first task that we can share as we explore this 4-letter word. This examination of self is a good start, and will surely help you listen more intentionally when others express their busyness.
Do I brag about being busy?
Do I complain about being busy?
Do I appreciate what this busy is for?
Do I understand the trigger that the word busy can be for people?
Do I view busyness as a decision that someone makes?
When I’m listening to a client, friend, or colleague talk about their flavor of busyness, I try to ask them intentional questions, like “What would happen if you didn’t prioritize that action?” or “How would it look for you not to deliver that service offering in that time frame?”. What I’ve started to observe is that many busy people impose time frames, expectations, and quality assurance that are unsustainable in pace, quality, and quantity. Perhaps the achievement orientation
Being busy doesn’t equal being successful.
Being busy doesn’t equal being productive.
Prioritizing what’s important among the urgency and faux emergencies IS an art. The chemical response to responding to crises and being needed is intoxicating. It impairs our judgement, and becomes addictive. Even if we hate it, we need it. The solution is breaking the cycle and becoming intentionally un-busy.
Being un-busy and intentional may just be the secret to a peaceful existence in a world crammed with the pressures of frenetic activism. What are some ways to un-busy your life?
Write it down. Get into a good habit of tracking and attacking the things that you must do, and would like to do. This includes all the things.
Create goals. Sitting with your list and discovering what’s most important and why allows you to drive towards some things with laser focus, while acknowledging the tasks and asks that aren’t really critical.
Organize everything. Your workspace, your note taking, your headspace. All of this truly matters when you are feeling stressed by the busyness in your life. What can you group together and create strategies to tackle? Where can you implement SOPs (standard operating procedures) in daily life to minimize one-off tasks?
I have a great example for this when it comes to grocery shopping. Both my husband and I have a mobile app for groceries on our phones. We implemented ongoing grocery items adding, especially when one of us uses the last of something. Each week, when it’s time for pick up, we’ve already knocked out a major challenge. We have SOPs about grocery pick up, packing the car, and replacing reusable bags and storage. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s worth figuring it out.
Establish boundaries. Your time is no less important and valuable than my time. By establishing boundaries around your time, weighing in your own values and goals, and being realistic about expectations for yourself and in relationship with others, you are freeing up some headspace to move forward. If you struggle with boundaries, as so many people do, I encourage to you pick up a copy of my book, For She Who Leads: Practical Wisdom from a Woman Who Serves, and try the activities around values and boundaries.
Calendar. The commitment of using and sharing a calendar is paramount for the un-busying that we are hoping for. I have three professional calendars that I am constantly adjusting, and a paper calendar that I write everything in. This is absolutely overboard for most people, but because most of my appointments are about people, part of my process of retaining intentionality about my time and space is to physically write the names of the people in my paper calendar. Sure, this isn’t for everyone, but I encourage you to find something that works, that supports your mission, and that makes sense for the way that you run your life.
Communicate. Chances are, there are people out there whose lives intersect with your pretty intimately, in the form of life or business partners. For those people, communication is everything. What works best in these relationships? Three things: 1) Mutual respect; 2) Shared goals and priorities; and 3) Communication. In fact, do this: Overcommunicate. Overcommunicate. Overcommunicate.
The Art of a Good “No.” When I was a teenager attending endless chastity talks, we were taught that “No is a complete sentence”. Well, if you’re a people pleaser or a compulsive volunteer, it isn’t that easy. Get yourself a few key phrases that you practice responding with so that you can buy time to evaluate and contemplate, try one of these:
I will need to check with PARTNER and get back to you.
My calendar has been a little full lately, can you circle back to me at a later date so that I can focus my energy on this?
I’d like to support this, but I can’t help at this time.
When do you need an answer? I’d like to think about it.
Let’s leave some room in our lives for being un-busy.
Let’s allow space for creativity and play.
Let’s carve out opportunities for other people to tap talents and strengths that align with their passions.
You do not have to do it all.
You have human limitations.
You are a human being, and being matters so much more than doing.