Three key lessons about busyness

We’re all busy, right? Yeah, me too. But I was pulled up short a few days ago by this post on the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Vitae blog by Allison M. Vaillancourt:

I work with someone who begins every conversation by telling me how busy she is. I don’t mean some conversations, or most conversations; I mean every single conversation. Whenever I am about to talk with her, I ask myself, “I wonder if she will tell me how busy she is?” And every single time, she does. Is she accomplishing a lot? No; less than most. But is she “so busy?” Oh, yeah.

This particular colleague is not the only one who does this. As Jen Sincero, the author of You Are a Badass, has noted, “I’m so busy” is the new “I’m fine, thanks.” And it is getting annoying.

I’m curious about why so many of us seem obsessed with talking about how busy we are and why it seems acceptable to acknowledge that our lives are basically out of control. How can this be a good thing?

Allison wonders if those of us who feel (and are) the busiest really are the ones getting the most done:

The people who seem to accomplish the most seem to complain the least, and they also seem to have an unusual sense of focus. They don’t think they can do everything people want them to do, and unlike us, they don’t even try.

Allison and her friends have come to three conclusions that may help us all be more focused and less busy:

Lesson One: We can have it all, just not at the same time. Rather than trying to be superhuman, what if we decided to focus on just two or three key areas and let everything else fall away? Life might not be as interesting, but it might be less chaotic.

Lesson Two: Talking about being busy signals to others that we can’t be trusted with anything new or bigger. “David can barely handle what’s on his plate now, so he certainly can’t be trusted to lead this high-profile project.”

Lesson Three: Our minds pay attention to our mouths. Constant conversations about feeling overwhelmed and out of control are self-reinforcing and self-sabotaging. When we talk about being overly busy, we feel overly busy, and this mental swirling makes it hard for us to get anything done.

She and her friends have pledged to banish the word “busy” from their vocabulary and think of ways to reframe their tasks and sound “energetic and engaged rather than scattered and manic.”  What about you? Are you busy? Are you scattered? What could you be instead, and how could you get there?

Image: “Busy Subterranean Passage” by W2 Beard and Shorty. Used under a Creative Commons license.





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