The cult that is ‘busy’ is bullshit.
But it’s part of the modern age. You know, where you ask people how they are and they say “oh god, so busy!”. Where people’s tweets and Facebook status updates list the gazillion tasks they plan to do that day. Where you have to make actual appointments to talk to friends by phone or see them in two months because, y’know, we’re all so busy.
Mankind is no busier now than it’s ever been. In fact, given that we don’t have to fight off predators or hunt and kill our food any more, you could say we have a charmed existence. There are still 24, 60-minute long hours in the day, the same as everyone gets. Time is pretty democratic and reliable in that sense. But still, the Cult of Busy exists.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with busy-ness and productivity. To an extent, it makes the world go round and our communities function. I’m not knocking that. But when being busy becomes your default setting, or the reason you’re not being a good – and by good, I mean available and engaged – friend (to yourself as much as others), when busy keeps you awake at night, you’re in the cult. And I’m guessing you want out.
First, we need to define a better alternative. Here’s the thing: it’s not about doing less; it’s about doing what’s important, first.
You know what’s important, right? Well, think again.
Last week I had a minor meltdown, having been sucked into the Cult of Busy. My Cult of Busy excuse was this: I’m a full-time, self-employed writer and single mum, I’ve just moved 200 miles, I’m about to start a part-time degree at a university that’s an hour away, the car’s broken, I have to go to Berlin for work for two days, I have people staying, I like my house to be freakishly clean and tidy, I refuse to buy or cook convenience food, I have to complete my end-of-year accounts, oh shit it’s Dad’s birthday, I like to run and practice yoga every day, I still need to make some friends here and where in the name of all that is holy is my passport?.
Yeah, whatever. All of this was valid, real stuff that needed to be dealt with. I’d slapped a huge figurative ‘IMPORTANT’ sticker on each of these tasks and challenges. But how could they all be important enough to leave me existing on only 3 hours’ sleep a night, tears, too much wine to get me through and a whole lot of despair and self-loathing as a result? If I’d bothered to ask myself what’s really important, I’d have realised this:
Being OK is important.
And by OK, I mean healthy, kind to myself, open, hopeful. But I’d taken each of those tasks and problems and situations and tried to balance them all on top of each other like some massive life in-tray and deal with each one to perfection and in bizarre, arbitrary self-imposed timeframes. I was not OK. I was asking myself to achieve the impossible, for no meaningful reason, and was poised to beat myself up if I didn’t. What. An. Idiot.
Because the Cult of Busy is self-imposed. We do it to ourselves, by prioritising wrongly. We do it to ourselves by caring too much what other people think. We do it by putting our most basic needs (a good night’s sleep, a bit of down time, some decent food, a hug from a friend) last. But the rub is this: if you make sure you meet your own most honest needs, you will be nourished and OK enough to prioritise, to say ‘no’ when you need to, to realise that ‘perfect’ isn’t what’s being asked of us, and that a bit of dust never hurt anyone. You’ll get it done – without the drama. And since it’s self-imposed, we can leave this cult anytime.
So quit the Cult of Busy. Stop defining your OK-ness by how much you can cram into a day. Stop letting deadlines and to-do lists get one over on health and friendships and fulfilment. Because all of this busy stuff is fleeting. It’s relatively unimportant, on the scale of it all. Deal with health and head and hearts first, then anything that could get you arrested or fired if you don’t do it, then the rest can just fall into place. Because you’ll be OK. And that’s the important bit.