I absolutely love this piece from the New York Times Opinionator by Tim Kreider. Aside from my need to indulge in cynicism today (it was one of “those days”), it also made me consider what was the real source of my frequent exasperation with being “too busy”.
I won’t comment further on what’s covered in this post. But to recap for those who won’t click on the link, the writer talks about how most of the time the busy state people claim to suffer from is self-induced, and that busy-ness is some sort of claim that people make to help themselves feel more relevant. I totally get what he’s saying, and I totally get why people do this. And I will confess to these sins.
I frequently find myself with a enhanced ego from a to-do list that is unstoppable. Scratch that — I like this kind of to-do list for about three days, then I start to resent myself and anyone who tries to but in on my love affair with my own busy-ness by adding something to the list that I consider an annoyance. I want that to-do list to be filled with a delicate balance of things that “involve” me in something important with items that add an element of drudgery, like ordering new uniform pieces while Land’s End is still offering 30 percent off and free shipping. Upsetting that balance with something from either end of the spectrum will transform me from energized to grumpy.
But, the thing is, I sometimes don’t know what to do with myself without that huge to-do list. Put ten things on there, and I’ll probably accomplish more than half within a reasonable time period. With only three, I’m lucky to finish even a single one. Being busy feeds my frontal lobe with just the right boost to put my very best executive functioning skills into play. Without the proper dose, I am susceptible to watching House Hunters marathons (without a basket of unfolded laundry in front of me) or spending a few hours surfing the internet for unbreakable outdoor dinnerware that I still haven’t purchased in a decade.
Kreider does have a point, though, about falseness of busy-ness and the inadequacy that a lack of too much to do implies. When I worked full-time in the office of a large PR firm, I would occasionally suffer a silent phone or low activity on my email account due to being between projects or clients. It took about three hours of that barren existence for me to pop into my boss’ office and offer up my time on anything that was short-staffed in our practice group. Those 90 minutes drove me to the edge, but within a half a day on my new project I was already back to wishing I worked in the flower shop I passed by every day on my way to work. I now realize that I was addicted to the busy high, despite the stress hangover it induced.
Can I kick the busy habit? This is not likely, as some of what I do is quite fulfilling. But perhaps I can begin to think of it in a different way. It’s not busy-ness. It’s not a burden or a badge. It’s just the way I’ve decided to live my life.