The Need to Be Busy

April 28, 2014

Vintage Clock
Last week, Mags sent me a post by KJ Dell’Antonia of Motherlode about the whole notion of being busy. Dell’Antonia says that, as a working mother of four, she doesn’t consider herself busy — that she refuses to be busy — and her explanation for this seems to lie in her definition of the word:

Busy implies a rushed sense of cheery urgency, a churning motion, a certain measure of impending chaos, all of which make me anxious. Busy is being in one place doing one thing with the nagging sense that you ought to be somewhere else doing something different. I like to be calm. I like to have nothing in particular to do and nowhere in particular to be. And as often as I can — even when I’m dropping a child off here or there, or running an errand, or waving in the carpool line — I don’t think of myself as busy. I’m where I need to be, doing, for the most part, what I want to do.

I think my own definition of busy is slightly different: It isn’t always stressful or negative, but it’s usually about not having enough down time or breathing room between commitments and activities. I’m doing a lot of things that I want — and choose — to do each day, but sometimes it still feels like too much, like I’m rushing. I blame this, in part, on the fact that I can’t always estimate how long it’s going to take us to get somewhere and on the unexpected things that come up and can’t be ignored.

I do agree with Dell’Antonia that much of our busyness is within our control, though. We choose to do most of the things that cause us to say we’re busy. We often act like our life is pulling us around against our will, but that’s mostly not true.

It does makes me wonder, though: If we stopped saying we are busy, what would happen? Would it feel like we’re not doing enough, or like others might think we’re slackers? Would we feel less valuable and important? Maybe part of our need to feel and say we’re busy is something that runs deeper: insecurity, a need for validation and acknowledgement, a fear of not being good enough. I know that, for me, sometimes it seems that unless I complain or mention whatever craziness is going on, others will think that my life is always grand and easy.

But is that all bad? There’s something refreshing and inspiring about being around a person who seems genuinely happy about her life. At the very least, I know I could stand to work on being more present to whatever I’m doing in the moment, especially on those “busy” days.

What are your thoughts on this? How do you define busy? And what do you think is behind our common tendency to respond, “I’m so busy!”?

Image: rise n’ shine on Flickr

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1 Therese April 28, 2014 at 4:44 pm

I have been thinking about this a lot; in fact, my Advent resolution had been NOT to think of myself as too busy and therefore not to get caught up in the many tasks of that season. It is a hard challenge, but I found myself bored with feeling overwhelmed and thus determined not to be.

With the context of defining “busy,” I think for me it is the pile of obligations representing things that I don’t really want to do and the tension between those needs and the many things I do very much want to do. I don’t want to grade the stacks of papers on my desk that need my attention, I don’t want to make an appointment for my kids to get to the dentist, I don’t want to clean the toilets; I really do feel too “busy” to get to any of these tasks. But I DO want to do the things that are keeping me from doing those other things – I want to prep for an upcoming living history overnight with my kids, do want to finish the book about work and meaning I started last summer, do want to finish a conference proposal I started a few weeks ago.

The obligation pile must get done, but the other pile is where I am drawn and the combination of work in both feels overwhelmingly “busy,” yet the solution to this isn’t always perfectly clear. I’ve been trying to just plow determedly through the obligation pile to get to the work that calls me, but focusing amidst distractions is an art I’ve not quite perfected. That said, I agree with you totally that figuring this out is a highly worthy pursuit! Let’s add it to the “to do” list, eh? :-)


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