I was recently catching up with a friend who I hadn’t seen in months and I asked her the simple, “how have you been, anything new?” to which she replied ever single activity the kids were in, how much time work was taking up, and how her weekends and upcoming summer were jam-packed. Before she was done listing out all they were involved with, it occurred to me just how common this response is.
I constantly hear about how chaotic and busy everyone is these days… there isn’t talk of vacation and recent books that they’ve read, or even a recent night out without the kids.
Almost everyone I know is super busy, overscheduled and nearly impossible to make plans with, but what’s even worse, is that while they talk about being exhausted, they don’t ever see another way of life other than being busy.
Is this really the state of everyone’s lives these days? Busy? Super Busy?
The busy state of everyone’s lives make to wonder if being busy is a choice or is it just the way the world is now?
When I was a kid, my parent’s didn’t have social calendars and we weren’t all going in different directions every evening. We sat down for dinner every night and the kids played in the backyard or with our neighbors on the weekends. We ran around the neighborhood until it was dark because that was commonplace. Granted, when I was older and involved in competitive swimming I did travel once a month out-of-town to compete but even still, I had practice on Saturday morning and then we hung around the house the rest of the weekend.
Nowadays, everyone it seems has soccer tournaments and travels for sports, music lessons, art classes, tutoring, special school obligations, work obligations, happy hours and committees they serve on that take up every night of the week. Social calendars fill up months in advance unless you’re planning ahead too.
Gone are the days of just sitting at home, watching a movie, and being in the backyard with your kids or even just making time to read an entire book from cover to cover.
It make me stop and take a good, hard look at my own life and assess if we were scheduling activities, obligations, trips and taking on too much work for the sake of being busy, or to fill in blank space on the calendar, and if we were doing things that we really truly loved and enjoyed doing.
I’ve heard about the “busy trap” or “chaos addiction,” but is being busy really an addiction and do I have it? Do you?
If the words “busy” are always coming out of your mouth – I’m so busy, things are crazy busy, my next week is already full, I’d love to take a vacation but I’m just so busy, I can’t get into a new book because I don’t have time for it – that’s a pretty good indication that any free time in your life is little to none.
It’s important to note that there is a difference between work and play and the “busy trap” is about how you schedule your time away from work.
Being a “workaholic” or having an around-the-clock demanding job is something else entirely.
If you are working several jobs to pay your bills, you aren’t busy because of the choice for a chaotic life. You are working hard whether it may be to support your family, pay off debt, or make ends meet and that my friend, is commendable.
Questions to ask yourself to find out if you’re intentionally creating a busy and chaotic lifestyle:
- Do you perform better or feel at your best when you’re at your busiest?
- When you aren’t doing anything, are you restless, feel unproductive or guilty?
- Do you like the feeling of checking things off a list?
- Do you enjoy telling people everything you’re busy with so others can sympathize or applaud you?
- Do you like when people point out just how busy you are?
- Do you generally feel better being busy than not?
Dr. Keith Lee who wrote the book, Addicted to Chaos: The Journey from Extreme to Serene about this topic and others’ experiences with chaos addiction states:
“In a culture where the ‘extreme theme’ has become the norm, people are increasingly seduced into believing that intensity equals being alive. This type of life may produce heart-pounding excitement, but the absence of this addictive energy can bring about withdrawal, fear, and restlessness that is unbearable.”
The other factor to note that feeds our need to be busy is the opinions of others. We’re inundated by opinion overload in our everyday lives from social media, smartphones, and consumerism.
We all know people who humblebrag about how busy their lives are on social media as if this is a status symbol. The supermom that seems to does it all and isn’t shy about giving you a checklist of her day, the family whose kids are in a million different activities and always in three places at once or the guy who is always tagging his location and posting about his extra-curricular activities on Facebook.
We’re inundated with images, updates, posts, tweets and videos of being busy as if it’s a status symbol.
After I took a look at our family’s schedules and stopped to really ask the kids about what they liked doing, what they didn’t like doing, who we spend time with and how we feel about the people we got together with,
I realized that while we weren’t spreading ourselves too thin, the kids were in some activities they didn’t necessarily love, we were trying to pencil in dates with people that we may feel obligated to spend time with but we don’t look forward to, and saying “yes” to too many extra work projects we probably should have turned down.
Sure we’re not as busy as some folks but my kids made it clear they wanted to slow down and not do so much. Here I was, signing them up for activities to help get their energy out, but they just want to be kids and play in the backyard, go to the pool, hunt for bugs and watch movies.
They don’t want to be on the go all the time or have meals in the car which is music to my ears because I want our kids to remember experiences they had in their childhood, rather than car rides and all the sports and activities they were in. I want to sit down for family dinners and I want to spend time together – all five of us, because to us, that’s what’s important. It’s not about how busy our calendar is, how many activities the kids are involved in, or making sure that every weekend we have plans to fill our entire summer.
I was caught up in the state of being busy – because that’s the message that I’m inundated with every day – and I was only perpetuating this instead of slowing down and giving me kids the a childhood they deserve.
Once we came to this realization, I am more intentional when I say “Yes” to another dinner invitation or taking on extra work projects that I don’t really want or need to.
What I ask myself before committing to something are these three things:
- Do we really want to add another thing to the calendar and if we do, can we get rid of an activity or obligation in its place?
- Do I financially need to take on another work project or can I skip this one?
- How busy are we this week – as a rule of thumb, we spend generally 4 nights a week at home without activities, dinners, etc. – if we already have commitments for 2 or 3 things, we may turn it down.
Let’s get one thing straight – you’re not busy because you have to be, it’s because you want to be. Being busy and living a chaotic lifestyle is a choice.
It’s a choice to sign up your kids for two or three or four things. It’s a choice to go to happy hour and then dinner and then out afterward. It’s a choice when you say “Yes” to that one thing you really wanted to say “No” to. It’s a choice when you spread yourself too thin.
But, it’s also a choice to stop living like this. To stop the chaos, the business, the extra activity, the extra happy hour, the extra project, the extra committee you just joined. It’s also a choice to stop living this way if you don’t like it.
Does the busyness o your life make you happy? Really, truly happy? Take the time to be introspective and look at your calendar and obligations, commitments, and listen to your gut. Which things make you happy and which ones don’t? Start eliminating those that don’t bring you joy and have become obligations.
Delve a little deeper and ask yourself if being busy is temporarily filling a void of something that you may be unhappy with in your life or trying to escape from? Instead of facing it, are you running away by making your life busy so you won’t have to confront it?
STEPS TO STOP BEING BUSY & FINDING TIME FOR THINGS YOU ACTUALLY ENJOY
- Sit down and look at your calendar. Write down everything you have to do for the next month. Kid’s sports, meetings, outside commitments, BBQs, happy hours, committee meetings, trips, birthday parties, dinners and more.
- Start another list with two columns – Enjoy / Do Not Enjoy. Assign all your commitments to one or the other. When you’re writing them down, think about how they make you feel. Are you happy to do these things or has it turned into an obligation that you no longer enjoy?
- Anything in the “Do Not Enjoy” column has to go. Work to eliminate everything in this column quickly. Several examples:
- Graciously back out of the commitment if you can or put a timetable on your exit.
- Stop signing your kids up for an activity when they don’t like it or you have to talk them into participating. Cancel activities and get a refund if you can.
- If you have four birthday parties on your calendar, kindly back out of one or two. Your kids will not be forever changed that they only made it to two of the four birthday parties they were invited to.
- If you’re not engaged in a work commitment, can you go to your supervisor and ask to share the task or for a new assignment?
- Next, make a new list. This list is a list of all the things you enjoy doing and spending time doing. Most of these things probably aren’t on any list you have right now, depending on how busy your life is right now. It can be small to big things like reading a book, going to a concert, getting a massage, BBQing with good friends, having a cup of coffee at a coffee shop, or maybe even taking a weekend trip.
- Does anything on this list fall on the first list in the column, “enjoy?” If it does, that is amazing, but if it doesn’t, now is the time to find room in your schedule to add some of the things you love (especially since you just eliminated some!)
Doing things that don’t bring you any joy won’t make for a very happy life and leads to a life of discontentment.
You have this one life to live and you don’t get to have this time ever again, so why are you wasting it on things that don’t bring you true happiness and make you feel good?
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