Everyone I know is “too busy.” It’s become a badge of honor, a bragging right, to complain endlessly about how busy we are. And we are busy. We have become so busy that we are stressed, unhappy, and at times physically ill. Instead of feeling energized about our life we are completely exhausted. We are busy scurrying around doing all sorts of frenzied activities that probably aren’t particularly important.
American culture places a high value on productivity. What we often fail to realize is that productivity and activity are two completely different things. We can be incredibly active, but produce absolutely nothing of value. If we don’t define what truly valuable activity is we become little more than hamsters running laps on a wheel. Sure, we might have burned off some calories in the process, but we’ve gotten absolutely nowhere.
Why is our self-importance so tightly tied to our activity level? How much of our busyness is almost entirely self-imposed and made up of things that are unnecessary, excessive, and even harmful? Why are we so proud of announcing to the world how busy we are?
Many of us feel guilty when we aren’t knocking things off of our to- do list. We feel selfish when we choose to spend our time on relaxation, daydreaming, or hobbies. We worry what others will think of us if we aren’t as busy as they are. When asked to do something we’d rather avoid the comment “I’m too busy” rolls off our tongues so quickly it’s lost all meaning. Unfortunately our need to keep busy has become so ingrained in our behavior that it prevents us from living a balanced, healthy, and genuinely meaningful life.
Sometimes it’s an inability to deal with our own feelings of emptiness, fear, or competitiveness that pushes us to cram in more activity than one human being can sanely manage. In filling up our days with “stuff” we can distract ourselves from what is really wrong – a bad marriage, unfulfilled dreams, the stress of parenting, an overwhelming need to be perfect. Instead of dealing with our problems we simply add another one.
We need to learn how to turn inward, instead of outward, to fill that internal void and find fulfillment in our lives. We need to care less about how others perceive us, become accountable for confronting our own problems and not distracting ourselves from them, and teach our children the true meaning of a well-balanced life.
I truly believe that we make time for what we value. Invest your time in what improves your health, reduces your anxiety, and allows you time to breathe, dream, and grow. Yes, there are some necessary and legitimate items on that to- do list : work, medical appointments, childcare; important activities that as responsible adults we can’t neglect. But pause to question the value of what activities you add to your list before you validate them with your time and attention.