― Henry David Thoreau
IMAGINE WHAT THE WORLD WOULD BE LIKE IF….
...you had a daily life and work flow that felt inspiring, ambitious but manageable, wisely incorporated technology and was composed of just the right proportions of challenge, fun, pressure, leisure, solitude, community, culture, and more. Imagine giving yourself the time, space and support you need to achieve a fully integrated life that meets a majority of your needs.
Ideas about what success and productivity mean would expand to include things like being a good listener and remembering birthdays. What if work output was not the main index of our success and well-being? Alongside GNP and GDP, all communities and governments would value, as does Bhutan, measures of our holistic (i.e. mental, physical, emotional and spiritual) wellness.
We would feel more cared for, have less anxiety and stress, more energy and motivation to contribute positively. We would understand that breakthroughs often come when we have the freedom to alternate between doing “nothing” — listening to music or even staring out the window — and working in traditionally hard ways.
Imagine a world where our social life happens more in flesh-and-bone reality, where we’re not too busy or distracted to prevent each other from falling down the rabbit hole of addiction to work, technology, etc. I’d love to see a world free of stigmas around normal human limits and designed to prioritize the full range of our needs over things like deadlines and profit margins.
If we weren’t always so busy, imagine how much more we could invest in each other’s lives, building up precious troves of love and trust. It could be a world where we’re more generous with our time and attention, where we trust others to take on some of the load we carry, where work and leisure are distributed more equitably. We would likely have more space to acknowledge and use our vulnerabilities to connect to ourselves and each other.
This is a vision of an interdependent world, a society in which we relate holistically in order to explore the full depth of our human journey together. We are “busy” living fully.
NOW BACK TO THE REAL WORLD
What makes us believe we need to be so busy? Is it the high cost of living? Have we bought into the message that not overworking means we’re somehow lazy? We’ve been conditioned to avoid idleness. As a result, it’s easy to struggle with connecting to our intrinsic worth — our value beyond what we produce and the roles that we play. Perhaps this is to be expected in a culture that overvalues busyness and undervalues rest, but there is more and more evidence that less can be more.
It may seem unrealistic to question the busyness ethos given the cultural emphasis on getting things done. Your boss is not likely to complain if you work overtime and double your monthly quota. But what if more people in management understood that, in the long run, overworking is a bad deal for everybody? Some leaders and managers already get this, but there’s still a long way to go.
In the relationship realm, social media encourages the idea that we can have nearly unlimited interactions. In reality, this can lead to lots of superficial connections and may rob us of the time and energy necessary to develop deeper ties if we’re not mindful.
Dealing with busyness entails placing limits on how much we try to meaningfully integrate into our life.
Of course, we are human, not machines, despite our omnipresent devices. We have physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual limits, which is easy to forget these days. We tend to push ourselves in an endless quest for limitlessness.
Less is More. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t work hard or be ambitious, but rather that we get more discerning about what those things mean. A growing body of research reinforces what many of us already know, which is that, in the long run, when we slow down we still get plenty done while having the bandwidth to get and give more to ourselves and others.
Reimagining busyness means rethinking our values. What if you gave equal value to, for example, catching up with a good friend over a long lunch as you give to any work-related task? You might find you would return to work with renewed passion and focus. Sometimes work will need to be the priority, but I encourage you to be as intentional as possible about where and how you spend your time, energy and focus.
—Thich Nhat Hanh
POSSIBILITIES FOR REIMAGINING BUSYNESS
What if conversations about how busy we are moved from complaint or passive acknowledgment to supporting each other in taking actions for change? That is the conversation I’d like to get started! Let’s join in supporting each other to “stretch” time by being as fully present as we can for ourselves and others. There are myriad ways to take control of your time and attention. Here are seven steps to begin (and more coming in my next blog!):
Get curious about how your busyness may be affecting you and right size what you can accomplish each day. Make a brief appointment with yourself every week, even if only for a couple of minutes to examine how well your level of busyness is working for you (it’s amazing what a focused mind can accomplish in 120 seconds or even less). We tend to underestimate what’s required to do most things. When planning your day, try to add on at least 5% more time, energy and focus for each task. If you’re not sure how to begin your assessment, try taking my quick Busyness Inventory.
Redefine what being busy means to you. We tend to think that more is better — more outcomes, more degrees, more promotions. On the way to more, we can miss out on much. Key questions to ask yourself are:
Reimagining busyness means refining your own unique formula for living and working. For example, I have clients who confuse perfectionism with professionalism. They’re too hard on themselves and feel terrible when their unrealistic expectations aren’t met. Having humane, yet ambitious expectations of ourselves is an art well worth mastering!
Refine your values and priorities. Knowing what you truly value and prioritize will provide you with a ready-made roadmap for staying in the healthy busyness lane of your life. Ask yourself at least once a day: is what I’m doing aligned with my values and priorities? If it is, affirm yourself. If it isn’t, ask yourself: what is one thing I can do right now to be even just a little bit more aligned. For example, if one of your values is to get enough sleep and you’re still working past your bedtime, gently remind yourself of your northstar and set a healthy limit. This can be easy to say, and hard to do so don’t be afraid to reach out for support to build your limit-setting muscle.
Define your working style. Knowing what conditions, tools, attitudes and skills allow you to fully share your unique value — and what gets in the way of that — is critical for reimagining busyness. It can be useful to note what is present and absent when you’re most in the flow of work. For example, what is your work space like? What times of day and after which activities do you do your best work, i.e., what is your optimal work rhythm? One client of mine works most effectively after taking a really brisk walk, another one absolutely needs to meditate prior to important work.
Define your needs. In order to meet your needs, you have to know what they are! That’s not so easy in a culture of overwork. Nobody wants to be seen as “needy,” or as taking excess time off from work to attend to themselves, but the reality is we all have a ton of needs and that’s okay. It’s important to be aware that not attending to yourself over the long term can have serious consequences. In contrast, when you create space for meeting your physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs, you’ll likely discover what you’re really available for. Check in each morning with your top three needs and make a commitment to meeting them, if possible. If that’s challenging, welcome the opportunity to get support. To get you started, here are some of the main needs that we seek in our lives: autonomy, connection, meaning, peace, safety, health and play.
Take 5 mins at the beginning of the day to set your compass. If you do nothing else each day to manage your Busyness Index, please try this. Before checking your emails and texts, getting your coffee and preparing to go to work, set aside 2-5 minutes to clear the buzzing busyness bees from your mind. This is hard at first, but gets much easier with daily practice. Take a few deep breaths and acknowledge what you’re grateful for (if you can’t think of anything, try being thankful for the miracle that you woke up this morning). Identify a few key feelings and needs (see above), acknowledge your strengths and affirm your commitment to your values and priorities throughout the day. If you can, right before bed, take another couple of moments to consciously shift your attention away from technology, to-do’s, and expectations and reconnect with gratitude and your intention to allow yourself to truly rest and regenerate.
Take another 5 mins every morning to create a simple to-do list — not an aspirational to-do list — with built in re-charge time. Recharging is both a to-do and to-be! While aspirational to-do lists — which deliberately include goals you know you can’t likely reach today — can be inspiring, they also can be overwhelming and fuel the busyness treadmill. Instead, by calling on the values and priorities you honed above along with an increased awareness of your needs and working style, you can shape an ambitious yet doable list that allows you to maintain a healthy Busyness Index, particularly if you’ve set a few minutes aside first to set your compass. As you create each item on your to-do list, ask yourself if it’s realistically achievable today. If not, cross it off and/or move it to the next day. You may also want to rate how aligned each item feels with what you’re prioritizing that week on a scale of 1-10. Make sure to include “down time,” at least, once a day — meditation, exercise and/or peaceful nature walks — as a high priority. And, consider that most people need about 10 minutes to transition between to-do’s.
Reimagining Busyness takes time and effort, but it’s a necessity, not a luxury if you want to truly take charge of your work and life. I’d love to hear how you’re managing your busyness! Please feel free to reach out to me if you feel you could benefit from taking more leadership of how you direct your time, energy and attention and increasing your impacts via direct coaching support.
Let’s unplug from our devices and hectic schedules to support ourselves in mining the fullness of our mind, body, and spirit as we create significant relationships and impacts. In my next post, I’ll discuss how to take more leadership in reducing unhealthy busyness in the workplace. I hope you’ll join me!