Q: “How are things going?”
A: “Busy. I’m very busy.”
Over the past several years, this has been a common exchange among me and friends and acquaintances in the business world. Everyone is just…so…busy. At first glance that might seem like a good thing. Busy means you’re being productive. Busy means you’re not lollygagging. Busy means you’re valued by your employer because they’re giving you lots to do.
Want to know the real issue with busy? Busy doesn’t equal happy.
Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work. ~Kierkegaard
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard drew a direct connection between busyness and unhappiness. He wrote that those who were overly busy were living life “outside of their true selves” and were never really in the moment. In his words, “the unhappy man is always absent from himself, never present to himself.” There in body, but with a mind and soul that is someplace else.
Writing in Everything Belongs, the Franciscan spiritual philosopher Richard Rohr continues this theme, preaching that when we are “busy,” it becomes virtually impossible to “be in the now.” Rohr writes that “the now” is the time when our whole being is present to life. We’re not distracted by our phones, our TVs, or the other diversions of life. Rohr informs us the now is also the place where we can best find, and connect with, God.
The fact is, “busy” is often a decision. We decide how we fill our days and in the immortal words of author Annie Dillar,“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” A distracted day leads to a distracted life.
Jonathan Fields, writing in Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance (courtesy of Maria Popova), expands on the idea that when it comes to how busy we are, we are the ones calling the shots. In his words:
You decide what you want to do and the things that are important to you. And you don’t find the time to do things — you make the time to do things. And if you aren’t doing them because you’re “too busy,” it’s likely not as much of a priority as what you’re actually doing.
Maybe it’s time we reorganized our priorities.
I know that some of you are now thinking, “My job takes up all my time. I’ve got bills to pay. I’ve got no choice.” Gotcha. So what I’m suggesting is you find a way to deprioritize work in the grand scheme of things, by keeping your working hours to a minimum and devoting more time to spiritual pursuits or the fine art of doing nothing.
In this spirit, in his Behavior Gap newsletter, the writer Carl Richards calls for “The Age of Work Hard, Rest Hard.” In Richard’s case, he’s not saying that we should stop working—just that we need to spend a lot more time resting. Richards sees a world in which we strive to be as successful at rest as we try to be successful at work. In this world:
We’re becoming pros at turning off social media, getting great sleep, working less, and living more. We’re making being rested cool. So that when people ask how you’re doing, you can say, “Sit down. Let’s talk about it for a minute, because I have time for you, my friend.” At a minimum (when someone asks “How are you?”), you should be able to answer, “Rested, and how are you?”
Returning to the author Jonathan Fields, he again reminds us the key to being less busy, and more happy, is you. If you don’t do it, no one else will do it for you. You must take the initiative. In his words:
You have to make your own happiness, wherever you are. Your job isn’t going to make you happy. Your spouse isn’t going to make you happy. The weather isn’t going to make you happy. You have to be able to create your own happiness, period.
Fields continues that in his own case, what helps him lead a more purposeful life is “to feel that what I’m doing is coming from my heart and not my head so much. And it’s still a struggle.” But the effort is worth it. As the old adage goes, no one ever lied on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at work.
As for me, the enforced stay-at-home rules during the coronavirus pandemic has slowed my pace. I’m spending more time being and less time doing. With my long daily commute gone, with the water cooler chatter reduced to a minimum, I’m finding less time to be busy. More time to actively “do nothing.” It’s a routine that, now entrenched, will be very hard to break.
If you enjoyed this story, you might also like 5 Ways to Add More Stillness to Your Life.