Here in America we have a serious addiction issue: we are addicted to being busy. We run to and fro, working extreme hours every single week, piling on the list of things we “should” do every single day. It starts when we wake up, with our checking our smartphones for urgent emails and Facebook updates before we even leave the bed. We might exercise, then grab a shower and take breakfast on the go, hitting the road early to beat traffic. We drop the kids at day care, we hit the office and start working. We run errands at lunch, or even worse, we have lunch at our desk while we continue working. We leave work and race to pick up the kids, then start the nightly race: soccer practice, boy scouts, church groups, dance recitals, homework and maybe dinner squeezed in there somewhere. Any spare quiet time in there–even a three minute span, is filled with answering more emails on our smartphones, checking in again on Facebook, and getting work done virtually that we didn’t get done in the office. We fall into bed exhausted at the end of every day. Our friends invite us out to dinner or drinks with them, but we can’t, because we’re too busy. Coordinating an evening out with friends is as complicated a task as there can ever be, for everyone has schedules that are just crammed full.
What do we get for all this activity? Do we end each day feeling like it was a success? No. We end each day feeling like we somehow failed, because somewhere on the list of things we “should” do, something was missed; something wasn’t done to full perfection. We run, and we run, and we run beyond the point of exhaustion, because if we don’t, something that we “should” do is left undone. We fail.
Somehow in our society being perpetually busy has not only become a way of life, it has become a badge of honor. We don’t just live busy lives, we boast about them. We drop into conversation how busy we are.
“How are you?”
“Oh, fine. Just so damned busy. Never get a moment to myself!”
“I hear ya. Just last week I worked 50 hours and coordinated my daughter’s fundraiser in the evenings. I’m beat!”
“Wow, that is busy! I’ve been working 60 hours a week lately, and running both the boy scout troop and coaching soccer.”
Joann walks in and ups the ante: “Yeah, I hear ya. It’s our busy time at work and we’ve been working 65 hours a week, plus I’m finishing up the last of my master’s degree, and somehow I became president of the PTA too. Between all of that and teaching Sunday School, I’m lucky to get four hours of sleep a week!”
I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about here. No one is just a little busy. Everyone is super-mondo-over-the-top busy. No, you really don’t understand! I’m really, really, REALLY busy. You guys-just-don’t-get-it kind of busy.
But we do. We all get it. But why do we live this way? Why do we approach life as if being mondo busy is some badge of honor? I believe it is because our busyness means we are important. If we are busy, we have value to someone. If we have a schedule so jam-packed with activities then we must be important, right? I must be living life right if my time is in such high demand. My life has value, my life has meaning if I’m uber-busy, right? I mean, if my work was insignificant, then no one would be asking me to do more. I’m busy, because I’m important.
Yet we are so busy being important to other people that we miss the true worth in life. We don’t stop and smell the roses anymore. In fact, that is a phrase I haven’t heard anyone I know say in a long, long time. It isn’t even something we consider possible anymore. You know how crazy this society is? When I tell people that I’ve spent time in my hammock reading a good book, I actually feel guilty. That’s crazy! I first feel guilty because this voice in my head says I could have done something better with that time–I could have been cleaning out my closets, or volunteering to help people, or getting a few extra blog posts written. I could have been teaching my kids how to be super-brainiacs and playing wonderfully imaginative games with them. I could have cooked up a four-course gourmet meal for my family in the 90 minutes I spent in my hammock. How dare I waste that precious time? Plus, telling other people that you did just that–that you ‘wasted’ time–somehow feels like you’re throwing it in their face that they are too busy to do it too. When I tell people, I often get the answer back “Wow, that sounds amazing. How I wish I had that kind of time! You are soooo lucky! I was too busy yesterday, running here and there for little Johnny, and then work called, and I had to race into the office to solve a world-ending crisis…”
Understand that for many years I’ve been a captain of the Busyness addiction team. I worked 60-70 hours a week, volunteered dozens of hours a week, and tried to make sure my kids got all that they needed. I ran that race, HARD. I’d fall asleep at 2 a.m. and wake at 6:30 a.m., and open my iPhone before I did anything else. I was answering emails before I’d even gotten out of bed. Emails I’d just checked four hours ago. I could never hang with my friends because there were too many things going on, and when they’d invite me out I’d say “You just don’t understand, I’m just too busy.” If I did go out, I wanted them to understand that I was giving them a gift, a gift of my time. (But then I’d often spend half the night talking about how busy I was…yeah, I was queen of this addiction.) Yeah, I’m sure they appreciated that “gift.” Finally one day I woke up and realized I was missing the best parts of my life–I was missing these amazing people I had around me. I wasn’t laughing much, and I wasn’t happy, because I was too busy to do any of those things.
When was the last time you just took 15 minutes to do something fun? Something fun and frivolous? When was the last time you did something that had no purpose, no goal, just to feed your soul? When was the last time you took a nap? When was the last time you read a good book? When was the last time you remember feeling bored? If you’re like most Americans, you probably can’t remember what boredom feels like. (And no, it isn’t sitting somewhere that you can’t leave while you think of all the things you should be doing right now. That’s not boredom. That’s addiction to busyness.)
“But Heather,” you say. “You have no idea. I just don’t have time for that! I don’t have 15 minutes in my day! I can’t take time for myself. That’s crazy. All these people NEED me! Everything will fall apart if I do that.”
I DO understand. I lived that life until just a couple of months ago. I understand that statement 110%. Then one day about a year ago, I’d had enough. I had to get off the treadmill. I felt like I was headed for a nervous breakdown if I didn’t change my life immediately. But I didn’t know how to start–I wanted to help people. I wanted to be “important.” I wanted my life to have value. But I knew I couldn’t keep going on as I was. I was addicted to being busy, but I’d never seen a twelve-step program for perpetual busyness. I had to do this one step at a time, one small bite at a time.
This is what I want to help you do. I know that you are addicted to. I know it as clearly as I know the sky is blue, that the majority of you have this same crippling problem–chronic busyness. Everyone around you does too. If you try to stop, they make you feel guilty for it. They make you feel like you are somehow less important than they are. If you’re a mom, you’re trapped in the mommy wars, surrounded by “perfect” moms who have no patience for others who don’t run their kids to all the best camps every single day. It isn’t easy, but I want to help you break free from that.
You see, when you stop and take time for you, you will suddenly find there is more time to do the things you truly want to do with your life. It is funny how it happens, but taking 15 minutes a day to sit quietly somehow leads to real joy and contentment. Somehow that 15 minutes a day turns into an hour to just play with your kids. Or an hour to hang out with your spouse. Or an hour to have coffee with your best friend. Where before you had no time to do anything, suddenly you have time to do the things you love.
It means saying no to something. There are so many things that are “good” to do. But are they truly necessary? Our time so often fills up with “good” things that our life is too full for the “great” things. No one lays on their death bed wishing they’d put in an extra hour at the office. They lie there wishing they’d spent more time with the people in their lives. They wish they’d read more books; that they’d gone swimming more often; that they’d taken more walks in the sunshine. Is that where your time is spent?
So over the coming months, I’m going to share with you the lessons I’ve learned and the things I’ve done over the past year to begin my detox from busyness. I’m going to give you assignments, and ask you to join me on this journey. They will be short and they will be small, but they are designed to specifically break a pattern–to help you take back your time, to be in control again, and to live a life that has true meaning. Don’t make the assignments an addition to your overwhelmed to-do list. Do them in spite of your to-do list. I will make these fun, and make sure that they will help you stop and smell the roses every single day. Ready?
Here’s this week’s assignment:
Every day I want you to take five minutes just for yourself. This can be hard, I know. Five minutes sounds like it isn’t long, like it won’t make much difference, but it really does make a world of difference! Block out five minutes, preferably somewhere in the middle of the day. Step away from other people–get outside away from people. I want you to get away, and then take ten really deep, slow breaths. Relax your shoulders as you take each breath. Take ten more, if you need to. Now I want you to look around and notice something completely ordinary. Watch the leaves on a tree, or in flowers nearby. Look for the animals playing in that tree. Look at the shape of the leaves, notice the patterns in the flowers, look at the play of light on them. Close your eyes and breathe deep again, and see the plants again in your mind’s eye. Look for something in the plants that you’ve never seen before. Then take ten more deep breaths, and let it all go. You can go back inside and resume the craziness again. Do this every day, for only five minutes. It makes a difference!
If you can, I’d love for you to come back here and tell me what it was you observed. Was it a tree? Was it a flower? Did you notice any birds? Any bugs? Tell me how it went–did you get interrupted? (That’s okay–it happens!) Did you make it all the way through? Let me know how it went!