Busy – what does it mean to you?

The dictionary defines the word busy as being engaged in action or full of activity, but how does this word make you feel?

For some, the word busy is positive; there is a sense of satisfaction that comes with being busy. You can feel as though you’ve achieved a lot because you’ve crossed off the majority of tasks on your to-do list. For others, the word busy has negative connotations and leads to feelings of stress and anxiety – merely thinking about all that you need to get done the next day can lead to a restless night’s sleep.

Busy is becoming our culture; we have started judging our self-worth based on how busy we are. We often find ourselves using the word busy to describe our day, week, or even the past few months because we feel it gains the respect of those around us – but this isn’t the case. Let’s think about this for a moment, how often have you found yourself trapped in a meeting that could have easily been ten minutes shorter if the other person had simply shut up about how busy they were? The same is true when you’re complaining about your busyness. People are inherently interested in themselves. This means that even if the other person sympathises with you, they’re either trying to find a way to escape the conversation because they’re concerned about what they need to get done that day, or they’re waiting until you’re finished so they can counteract your arguments for being busy and make you realise that they’re definitely the busiest out of the two of you.

We can all cope with a certain amount of busyness for a while, but it’s not sustainable. Everyone has experienced that dreaded Monday morning feeling when you realise that the weekend has flown by and now you have another five days to get through before your next lie-in. Sometimes, the thought of going into work and having to tackle the to-do list that you left from yesterday, plus the emails that will inevitably have come in overnight, is enough to make you imagine that having a small accident on the way to work wouldn’t be so bad. A minor trip and fall might send you to Accident and Emergency for a morning and then you’d have a valid excuse as to why things weren’t done on time. As well as work taking up a huge amount of our time, we also have a lot of other commitments to keep up with: family, friends, hobbies etc. We need to juggle them all and this can seem impossible at times.

So, how do you start to get the balance right? The first step on your way to leading a balanced life is working out what’s important to you. I have included a few questions that will help you get started with this.

  1. What does being busy mean to you? Are you filled with a sense of pride when you get everything on your to-do list accomplished, or do you dread looking at your to-do list because you know you’re going to feel like a failure when you only manage to finish two of the tasks by the end of the day?
  2. When do you feel like you add real value? Is it when you finish all the tasks on your to-do list; is it when you complete a project that you know your boss will be impressed with, or is it when you spend quality time with your family and you don’t need to think about how quickly you can escape to check your emails?
  3. What are the little things that make you feel content? Those moments where you find yourself laughing and you suddenly realise that you haven’t felt this good for ages. Do you get lost in the latest project at work and time passes so quickly that you don’t notice when the working day is almost over; does this happen when you’re at home with your family, or out to dinner with friends?

As you ponder these questions, you will begin to establish what’s important to you and, subsequently, the things that you need to start prioritising in your life. For the next week or so, take the time to notice when you feel happy or sad, in control or overwhelmed, content or dissatisfied. As you become more present and aware of your feelings around busyness and the impact it has on your life, you will learn what is and isn’t working for you – and more importantly, you will start to recognise the things that need to change.