Being busy can feel glamorous. Entrepreneurs love being busy and seen going places, and breathlessly working (perhaps because it signals success). Stay-at-home parents haven’t any time for rest, what with the spouse, the kids, the pets and everyone else’s needs. Employees in developing economies appear busier than their counterparts in more developed cities. One reason is labor laws in developing places are more lax, allowing employers to demand more hours. The other reason is simply that there just is more work to take care of in economies that are growing faster. Being busy can feel inevitable.
So what are we to do when busy-ness can’t be prevented? One way I have been managing being busy is to not glorify it, both because I find no reason to package being busy as pleasurable — it isn’t — and there is no need to encourage that kind of glorification from others. If I have to work a lot, then I do it quietly. When I get asked how my day has been, I tend to describe it as thoughtfully as I can by these categories: it’s been “productive and meaningful;”; “unproductive but meaningful;” “productive but unmeaningful;” or “unproductive and unmeaningful.” I don’t use “meaningless” because anything so lacking in meaning isn’t worth doing, and we can decide to let it go. Describing my days in these four categories helps me recognize that life shouldn’t go by in a blur. And responding this way makes me a whole lot more reflective and self-aware. (To this end, I also set my Blackberry alarm to ring at 12.55pm every day. The ringing triggers me to reflect on whether my morning has been spent meaningfully. Yes, on some days. No, on many busy days.)
Because busy-ness saps mindfulness, I try never to let an entire day go by without some self-hypnosis. Even several minutes count. If I can’t spare those precious minutes, then I breathe slowly, deliberately, until my head clears and my body drains most of the tension away. That’s exercising mindful meditation. One can do this anywhere: while walking to the cafeteria or the bathroom; or on the bus.
If you’re reading this in the midst of your whirlwind day, ditch busy for three minutes. Instead, breathe.