Too busy to read this? That's okay by me.
There’s been attack after attack after attack on busyness. The advice in those attacks is top-notch. The bashing of the word “busy” is not. Being busy isn’t the problem. Cramming our lives full of low-value activities that we’re “supposed” to be doing is the problem.
1. Working full-time jobs that we hate. So we can buy junk that adds no value to our lives. Because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing, right? That’s what everyone around us is doing.
2. Making sure we’re always caught up to the latest episodes of the seven TV shows that we adore. Because we wouldn’t be able to sleep knowing that somebody could potentially spoil The Big Bang Theory for us. That would be tragic.
3. Wasting every Sunday morning in church because that’s what we’re supposed to do. Sure, on the surface maybe that doesn't appear to be the most rational use of our time. But clearly it is the right thing to do, because that's what society is doing. And society is never wrong. I was always taught to ask myself “If all of your friends
jumped off a bridge worshipped an invisible man in the sky, would you?” Of course I would. Because I'm a good human being!
4. Hitting the StairMaster 2000 for 75 minutes every day because cardio is the king of all exercises and will get us in shape and will knock that fat right off. Oh wait.
5. Spending 12 hours per week on Facebook. Because we wouldn’t be good friends if we didn’t follow and “like” our friends’ every internet update. After all, Mark Zuckerberg didn't create a friend-quality algorithm that credits us for seeing our friends in person.
6. Booking monthly dinner dates with that one set of “friends” simply because we keep getting invited, even though they’re really only friends by convenience and they don't add value to our lives.
Let's stop tearing down busyness, and start tearing down the things that we're busy doing. If Claire De Boer would change the title of her article from “How Busyness Crushes Our Soul” to “How Soul-Crushing Busyness Crushes Our Soul” then yeah, I'd be on board with that.
And What Exactly is “Busy” Anyway?
When someone says to us “I’m so busy” we get a false sense of that person’s life more times than not. We assume that the person must be working 70-hour weeks, going to school on the side and starting her own business to boot.
Not that that life is anything to strive for, but it’s usually not so grandiose as that. More likely our friend can’t spend time with us because she’s working 40-hour weeks and then spending another 40 hours per week glued to screens.
“Busy” is Not a Four-Letter Word.
We don't need to stop being busy. We just need to transition from Facebook-busy to book-busy. Or to whatever kind of busy adds value to our lives. It’s easy to say “I wish I spent less time _________ so I could spend more time _________.” And we should say things like that. And we should take action on statements like that. But something retrospectively obvious happens when we replace our former busy habits with new ones. Inherently, if we value those new hobbies enough to prioritize them in our lives, then they will make us busy.
But who said we can’t be flexibly, rewardingly busy? Some activities that make us busy are hugely rewarding. Making those activities a priority will mean saying “no” to other opportunities. But these things are all flexible enough that we can say “yes” when the right opportunities come up.
Create. And speaking of creating: In the two weeks since I’ve started this blog I’ve been swamped. And guess what? I’m having the time of my life. I’m making real connections with Internet people in a way I never knew possible. I’m starting a business that could potentially allow me to be even more free someday. I’m staying up too late writing and not getting enough sleep, but not because I’m making myself. It’s because I get in the middle of an article or in the middle of doing some coding and I just can’t stop. I feel so alive. Yes, the extra hours are not meant to be sustained long-term. But short-term? Hell yeah!
Okay, I Admit It. Free, Unstructured Time Does Have Its Benefits.
Not because it allows more time for reading or writing or meditation or any other activity. All of that stuff is great. But eventually, when those things become parts of our weekly routine, they are contributing to our busyness. Which, again, is not a bad thing.
The real benefits of unstructured time are spontaneity, creativity, boredom and unplanned relaxation.
Spontaneity because it makes us feel alive. Would we accept a last-minute invite to a drag show if we were busy? No. Because that’s uncomfortable. And we don’t like uncomfortable. And being busy is an easy excuse to avoid uncomfortable. But the funny thing about uncomfortable is that sometimes it turns out not to be so uncomfortable. Uncomfortable things can open our eyes and excite us. And they can make us feel alive.
Creativity because it helps us mold our paths for the future. Because when we have time to think we have time to learn about ourselves and the world around us. And we have time to come up with psychotic plans for bettering ourselves and the world around us. And sometimes those psychotic plans work out just fine.
Boredom because it fuels spontaneity and creativity.
Unplanned relaxation because - as much as I’d like to argue the case here - we simply can’t always rely on relaxing from 7:30 - 8:15. Sometimes life hits us hard and we need to zonk out for a bit. Destress. Rejuvenate.
Does it feel like I’m arguing semantics here? Does it feel like I’m hitting on a lot of the same points that the articles I linked to hit on? I am. And I love all of those articles. But some semantics need to be argued.
As long as we have things that we prioritize, we'll be busy. We just need to prioritize the right things.
Disclaimer: I work a 40 hr/wk job. But I’ve crafted my life such that I could quit tomorrow and be fine. As long as I stay employed full-time, it’s by choice.