Is being busy really a choice?
In the midst of multitasking between a story I was writing, a tweet I was sending, about five news stories I was reading and a trip I was planning with friends, I came across an oddly apropos meme somewhere within my media universe.
The meme, which was written in bright, white text with a dark background, read, “Being busy is a choice.”
At the time, I was too busy to give it much thought. I rolled my eyes at the meme’s sentiment and went on with my jam-packed day. But that bright, white text seared itself in my memory and the saying kept popping up in my thoughts when I least expected it. At first, I was offended by the statement. But after giving it some serious thought in lulls during my busy day, I realized it was entirely true. I do choose to be as busy as I am. I choose to overcommit, to push myself past my known capabilities and to take on a challenge when it presents itself, no matter how much else I may have going on. I choose to do this in order to accomplish and experience everything I possibly can.
But why? Why do I feel the need to always be busy? I suppose a big reason for this is because I’m scared of the alternative. The thought of having free time with which to fill my day feels almost terrifying, so I prefer to overcommit myself.
As I researched more about this “busy” problem, I realized I was not the only one thinking about it. Some articles went as far as to say that we treat being busy as a “status symbol” and that we sometimes wear it as a “badge of honor.” I thought about my small-talk conversations with people I hadn’t seen in awhile.
“Hey, how are you? It’s been so long. What’s new?”
“I know, it’s been too long. Not much is new. Just, you know, keeping busy. You?”
“Oh, me too. I’m so busy, but doing well.”
And, honestly, I’ve been on both sides of this conversation. I wish my small talk was more substantive, but often there doesn’t seem to be much to talk about besides hectic schedules.
The all-encompassing quality of busyness, and my personal reliance on it, has led me to wonder: Can we be addicted to being busy?
Turns out, we most certainly can. Therapists and researchers have written about a numbing feeling we get when we’re busy that keeps us wanting more. That, by booking lots of things to do and not much time to think, we may be escaping something deeper. Brené Brown, a University of Houston research professor and author of “Daring Gently,” may have said it best:
“One of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call ‘crazy-busy.’ I often say that when they start having 12-step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums. We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.”
So, is there something we can do about it? According to Brown, there is. In an interview she did in the Washington Post, she said it’s important to disengage, to set boundaries at work and stick to them, even when it scares us or we feel like we aren’t worthy of taking time off (I’ve personally been guilty of both those feelings). She also said that we have to find a way to let go of business and exhaustion as a status of self worth.
“So when we make the transition from crazy-busy to rest, we have to find out what comforts us, what really refuels us, and do that,” she said in the interview.
I know, I know, this is all easier said than done. But she also says that, when we don’t want to rest, we should try to be intentional in the work we do. We should ask ourselves, are we doing this task just to stay busy or are we doing it because it’s something we truly love? If the answer is the latter, then we should go for it. If it’s the former, it may be time to take up meditation or yoga in its place.
So, I’ve found that being busy really is a choice. Now I just have to learn to stop choosing it all the damn time.
Barbara Platts has a lot more research to do on this topic, but she’s glad to know that busyness is, in fact, a choice. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.