With more labour-saving and time-saving devices at our disposal than ever, how are we chronically just so busy?
People talk of being busy, feeling stressed or out of control. We look for solutions to our time management but the truth is, busyness comes in a variety of different guises and there isn’t a one size fits all solution. It might help to understand the different ways busyness can show up in our lives:
The expert: For some, wearing business as a badge of honour especially in a work context may unconsciously reflect some form of a sense of worthiness – I’m in demand, my work is needed, my contribution is essential. It is possible that our work is worthy and our skills are rare yet we need to be careful. We can still be overworked. It’s also important to recognise when we’re tempted to think that we are indispensable or that if we are not overworked, our contribution is less valued…
The strong: For others the adrenaline surge associated with always being busy, rushing from one deadline to the next is an experience of effort and achievement, a victory, a quick breath and then back into the battle as the next deadline looms. Our busyness is a constant test of how we measure up to the cut and thrust of that fast paced, high achiever’s lifestyle. And yes, we may get great satisfaction from successfully meeting a series of difficult challenges. There are times when our busyness in this superhero role brings us purpose, pride or satisfaction and it certainly gets stuff done. There is often a high price to pay – for you and for those close to you. This lifestyle can be a poisoned challenge if not managed well.
The carer: Many of us know that we have roles as carers or supporters. It may be for our children, our parents or our partners or even our pets… yes, we’re busy but if we don’t do it, essential care does not get delivered. We recognise this is a vital role and that these responsibilities don’t go away or are not easily dismissed. Care can feel unending and relentless. Important as these roles are, it’s also possible that such responsibilities can be better managed, shared or negotiated so that they can be sustained.
The distracted: Many people are also addicted (is that too strong a word?), are we addicted to stimulus, input and change? Especially when many of the tasks/activities we engage in are not inherently satisfying. Maybe we crave distraction from an unfulfilling life and look to other activities to satisfy an unmet need for engagement. That’s how we find ourselves – that’s how I come to find myself – watching TV, flicking through a magazine and checking for social media updates on our phone. None of these tasks is fully satisfying or engaging and so we surf from one to another, in the forlorn hope that something may come along and demand a slice of our attention. The neuroscience here is clear, checking our phones becomes a habit, like gambling or playing the slot machines, mostly you lose (nothing interesting) but sometimes you win (a new message!) and the high reward of winning causes us to persist with our reward-seeking behaviours.
The unfocussed: At another level, maybe our surfing behaviour reflects a lost or uncultivated skill, that ability to shut out distractions and to focus on a single task to the exclusion of other interests. Many of us have failed to cultivate the mental muscle that allows us to settle on one single activity, to give a chosen task our full attention. And so, even when we know we have a job to do we find ourselves torn, unable to prioritise, jumping between tasks and ultimately reducing our productivity at the same time as increasing our stress levels.
The people pleaser: Perhaps the largest group of busy people are those who are genuinely torn, they are over-worked, over-committed, under-appreciated and it feels like hell. The problem here is that we can’t say “No” to any seemingly reasonable request made of us. There may be any number of reasons behind this and people-pleasing – wanting to keep other people happy – is certainly one of them. 
A deeper cause is often the belief that we are not worthy… We may believe that the needs of others always rank more highly than our own, our place in the world is always to be of service and that taking time for ourselves when that means saying no to others is, ultimately, being selfish. And yet, how can we serve others if our own battery (physical, emotional or spiritual) is drained and empty?
Most people are affected by one or more types of busyness to some degree. For each there is a price to be paid and yes, ways to manage them. Sometimes it is about practical time management tips.
More often than not, we know exactly what we need to do to change – we just don’t feel we can pay the price those changes require.