Life is Too Short to Be Busy

Posted on Monday, June 20th, 2016 by


When you realise you’re too busy to find the time to write a blog about the curse of busyness, it is perhaps time to realise that Tim Kreider’s wise words ‘Life is too short to be busy’ are more true than we care to admit. He wrote an article for the New York Times a few years ago about the trap we are all prone to fall into where we pretend to be too busy, where busyness ‘serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.’

Business psychologist Tony Crabbe, has written a book Busy: How to thrive in a world of too much which takes the theme further and sums up the situation we all find ourselves in ‘We live in an age where computing power and internet connection speeds are increasing exponentially along with sheer quantity of information and entertainment. We are constantly bombarded with the “seething static” of limitless information, communication and choice. In this world of too much, we are simultaneously overstimulated and bored, enriched and empty, connected yet isolated and alone.’

This constant bombardment of information and requests for a response is only going to get worse, it is inevitable. If we send an email, it has a consequence for someone else or several others if it is a group email. They then have to respond and so it goes on and we all end up creating more work for ourselves and others, ad nauseam. So when someone asks us how we are and we reply ‘so busy!’ are we really saying how successful, needed and admired we are? What happened to ‘fine thanks, how are you?’ Being busy has become a status symbol, a justification that we’re valued and making a difference.


Busy or lazy?

Counter-intuitively being ‘busy’ is often the easy or lazy option. By allowing others and our inbox to set our agenda, rather than think for ourselves, we fall back into the busy but unproductive trap. Of course you could argue that Time Management is the obvious answer; if only we could manage our time more effectively, we’d be more in control of our life and more effective. But, the more we manage our time efficiently, the more we can cram into our days. When you ‘manage’ your time, you become more efficient and therefore leave more time to fit more in and so we get even busier than before. Perhaps it is now time to stop the spiral of busyness and take back control of our lives.


Breaking the cycle

So what can we do to stop this vicious cycle? Being aware of the problem is perhaps the first and most important step to making effective change, but in her article on the dangers of being too busy, Bruna Martinuzzi has come up with some suggestions to slow down while achieving more and becoming happier in the process.

  1. Reward results, not hours – those people who are always the last to leave the office and the first to arrive are thought of as the hardest, most loyal workers but if there was a culture shift where we value results over visible time spent on tasks, everyone can feel the pressure reduced to work late every night.
  2. Stop bragging about how busy you are – being busy is the new status symbol, don’t fall in to the trap!
  3. Incorporate rest periods – Experts agree that working in 90-minute chunks is the optimum time that we are productive. Do something else every 90 minutes or so. Make a cup of tea, walk round the block, read a few pages of your book, anything to change the old habits.
  4. Own the choices you make – there is a lot to be said for being idle once in a while, the best ideas can come to you while staring blankly out of the window. As Bruna says ‘Making a conscious decision to let go of a frenetic way of being is climbing a rung on the maturity ladder.’
  5. Pay attention to the most important things in life to you – be it your children or your goldfish. No one lies on their death bed and regrets not having worked harder.
  6. Put a price tag on your well-being – Research has shown that people who regularly work a 12 hour day experience a 37 percent increase in the risk of poor health such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stress and depression compared to those who worked fewer hours. The author David Levithan suggests starting the day reading the obituaries in order that you might live your day a little differently. Morbid, but probably quite effective!


Finding the balance

Some people can be fairly uncompromising about the busyness trap. Arin Gragossian for example, said “Busy is just a false facade based on lies, laziness, and mismanagement that restricts performance and limits your mental capacity.” Rather harsh perhaps, but what is important however, is  finding ways to cut through the sometimes overwhelming demands on our time which can only get worse. If today we are consuming five times more information and content as we were in 1986, then what will it be like in another 5 years? Being busy is an addiction but it isn’t a great strategy for success or well-being. Finding ways to cut through the noise and filter out the meaningful is surely the better route to happiness and avoiding those death bed regrets.


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