‘Busy’ – such a short word, only 4 letters long, defined in the Oxford dictionary as ‘having a great deal to do’ or ‘occupied with or concentrating on a particular activity or object of attention’. It hardly seems significant, but in modern life, we seem more & more to wear the word like a badge of honour. When did we go from replying to people who asked us how we were with ‘I’m great, thanks’, to ‘oh, I’m so busy at the moment’. Do we really have more responsibility than ever before, or could it be a symptom of our modern times?
The other day a friend casually asked me if I had a busy week coming up – seems like a pretty innocuous question, right? I’ve certainly been known to ask this to other people in the past. A simple question that rolls off the tongue before we really think about it. Well, not to me, not anymore…I ended up going on a little rant about how I hate the word busy and how I think that its currently overused these days. The poor person who asked – his face said it all ‘who is this crazy girl, I wish I’d never opened my mouth’. lol In honesty, I’m a pretty laid back kind of person, I generally take people as they come and unless they do something that I really dislike (which is very rare), I’m pretty agreeable. So, it was definitely out of character for me to stand up and proclaim against the simple use of the word busy, but something has sparked in me over the past couple of years and I feel really strongly about the words that we use everyday.
I feel as though people use the word busy too easily – ‘oh, yes, I am SO busy this week – I have a million things to get done’ we proclaim whenever someone asks. Its as though my life is somehow more fulfilling and complete because I’ve managed to cram more into it than you. Its become a competition – there has been many a time when I’ve wanted to answer the question of how busy I am with a running list of every little thing on my list – most often used for comparison purposes to check that I’m doing enough. The thing is, how much is ‘enough’? What I feel is enough won’t ever feel adequate once I’ve heard your list of things that you have on. I’ll always feel inadequate when I try to compare myself to you and who wants to feel like that?
The case of the ‘shoulds’…
What strikes me the most, though, is that too often we’re adding things into our lives that we think we ‘should’ do – I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard women say that they have to hang out the washing (for example) because their husbands/partners don’t do it the way they like (hey, I used to be that girl, there’s no shame here). What I’ve come to realise, though, is that it’s not about doing it ‘right’, it’s about getting it done and working as a team. What I hear most often is that the person feels so overwhelmed because they have to do it all and what I always say is ‘who told you that you have to do it all’? Let it go, hire someone to help, deal with the mismatching socks for a week….or better yet, have the seemingly difficult conversation with your partner and ask them to help out more.
Banning the busy
When I spoke to this friend the other day, I was quick to point out that I have banned the word busy from my life and instead I now only focus on all of the fun things that I want to do this week. He seemed perplexed by this…It doesn’t matter who you are, we all have things in our lives that we have to get done – whether it’s a long work to-do list, driving the kids to their many activities, or chores that keep building up. The truth is that we only get one shot at this life – why does it need to be a stream of things that keep us busy, rather than things we want to be doing. The thing is, is that it’s actually in the small spaces that our mind can dream up what we really want to be doing.
Every morning I wake up and ask myself the question ‘How do I want to feel today?’ This simple act helps me set the tone for how I want my day to unfold. It reminds me to drop back into my heart and remember that I have the choice over the activities that I choose for myself. Sure, some things I have no choice over (like washing the dishes), but I now try to approach those things with a lighter spirit – more often than not I’ll put some music on or listen to a podcast whilst I’m doing the chores. There’s a great book called ‘Eat that Frog’, by Brian Tracy who talks about getting the most annoying tasks out of the way first thing in the morning – just like if you had to eat a frog – it wouldn’t be fun, but if you do it first thing, then it’s accomplished and you don’t spend the rest of the day procrastinating over doing it (& hence getting nothing done and perpetuating that feeling of overwhelm).
We all have a choice.
The words we use everyday have so much power – there’s a great quote by Mahatma Ghandi that says:
‘Our thoughts become our words, our words become our behaviour, our behaviour becomes our habits, our habits become our values and our values create our destiny.’
I’ve chosen to ban the word busy from my life because I no longer want to feel the pressure of having to be on the go every single day. The truth is that I have projects that I’m working on and yes they keep me occupied and engaged (& sometimes a little frustrated too), but everyday I have the choice about how I feel about them. Every morning I choose what I’m going to get done.
Incorporating new routines
One of my morning routines of late has been to write down three intentions every morning to keep me on track for what I want to get done each day – its something new that I’m implementing because even though ‘working from home’ sounds glamorous, the reality is that it can be full of distractions and procrastinations if you let it. So, when I wake up, I have a little notebook on the kitchen bench where I intentionally write out three things that I am going to accomplish that day. Some days they are big things, such as complete a module of study, or publish a blog post, whereas other days, the list may be more simple, such as do yoga, or get outside for a walk. The purpose is to remind myself that I don’t need to get caught up in the busy trap and that if I can commit to getting just three things done each day, then I will be three things closer to my goal. This one little switch in mindset has really helped me reframe the work that I’m now doing and I think it’s something that we can all incorporate into our days.
I know when I used to work in finance, that I would so often get to work and the very first thing I would do was check my emails. I really, really REALLY want to encourage you not to do this. Checking emails first up was always a bad move since invariably it would send my day into a spin – especially since I worked for a large international company, which meant getting emails 24/7.
I would often find that something urgent had come up in the US office, so I would need to fight fires all morning to get the issue sorted before they came online again. Little did I know that between them sending the email and them getting online again the next day that the issue was often already resolved, or a new tack had been employed – often meaning that the hard work I had put in in the morning was entirely wasted!
The other thing was that answering emails first up meant I wasn’t setting my schedule of priorities, I was letting other people dictate my schedule. Now, whilst some things were in fact urgent and needed to be done, I was always surprised, being the conscientious (ah….people pleaser!!) that I was, that people often didn’t expect a response straight away. Sure, its good to be known as the person who gets things done – its a nice ego boost, but really thats all it is! If something came into my email box, I would always assume that the task was always urgent. All this did was cause unnecessary stress to my day, right from the very beginning – all because of the CHOICE that I made in the way that I started my day.
Catching those reeling thoughts and getting out of the busy trap
Now its different, I work for myself, so I only really have myself to answer to, but I find that there can be days when I still find my mind racing because I’m thinking too far ahead about what needs to get done, rather than focussing on the present moment. I find when that happens that I’m getting better at catching it and reminding myself to focus on one task at a time, but its an ongoing process – one that I’m always going to have to keep top of mind. The trick is to catch those reeling thoughts quickly enough and to change the way that you perceive the situation. I find that dropping back into my heart and asking myself how I want to feel today is the best way to snap me out of it.
At the end of the day, we all have this one amazing life to live – we all have the same 24 hours a day. Being ‘busy’ is simply a state of mind. The next time someone asks if you have a busy week lined up, I encourage you to tell them that you too have banned the word busy from your vocabulary and then gently steer the conversation towards the positive things that you are doing that week. The things that light you up, the things that make you feel good about yourself, these are the things we should be sharing with others, not the drone of the to-do list that’s making you feel like you’re drowning. Give it a try – this one little shift may just turn out to change your whole perspective.
As a health coach, it’s my job to help people find ways to live their healthiest life yet – it’s not all about eating only kale and green juices, it’s often about the small mindset shifts along the way. If you’re interested in seeing how I can help you, please send me a message here.
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Wishing you a calm and peaceful week ahead.