While we can associate many positive things with being busy, such as productivity, achievement, efficiency and dedication, it seems that busyness actually undermines some of these qualities. When we try to cram too much into our lives we begin to see stress, anxiety, diminished performance, compromised quality and burnout. But in a culture where being busy is often worn like a badge of honour, it’s tough to break the habit.
I am now four weeks into the start of the school year, probably one of my busiest times. Between getting my two girls settled at school, managing my own return to work, juggling a new routine and still attempting to keep the house running smoothly, life has been nothing short of total chaos lately. The temptation is to continue saying….’after this week things will settle down’, or ‘as soon as things settle down, I can have some down time’. Of course we all know that it’s highly likely things won’t ever settle down. New issues arise, extra commitments, unexpected events…. there is always something to fill up our time. So what is the answer?
It is important to try and find chunks of time where we can actually experience a lack of busyness. I like to call it ‘slow time’. It can be compared to meditation, and in some ways, could be seen as a type of meditative, or mindfulness practice. The theory of meditation is that if undertaken for even 10 to 15 minutes a day the calm, relaxed state of mind achieved will flow on through the rest of the day, even when we are no longer in a meditative state. This enables us to cope better with stress and when things don’t go as expected.
Similar positive effects can be obtained from simply building some slow time in to our schedule. Sometimes life is busy and there isn’t a lot we can do to change that. But if we never stop rushing, tension and anxiety build up to the extent that can negatively impact our mental and physical health. The human brain needs time to reflect and consolidate the myriad different stimuli it is exposed to every day. Some people appear to have a remarkable ability to keep up a crazy fast-paced life for long periods of time, while others quickly crumble under the pressure.
If we make time for a bit of ‘slow’ in our fast paced lives, then the benefits of down time can sustain us during the tougher times. It might simply be setting aside half an hour to sit and read a book or a magazine. You might go out for a leisurely meal with the family on your weekend. A walk in nature is a great way to gain perspective. Sometimes I put pressure on myself to get through a list of ‘must do’ jobs on a Saturday so that I don’t feel uncomfortable about sitting down and doing nothing on my Sunday. Whatever you do, it is important to actually build this time into your schedule.
It’s so easy to just let the time pass with busy being in control. We need to start valuing slow time as much as ticking all the other things off our never-ending to do lists. It’s time to make ‘slow’ a priority. When we start to enjoy regular periods of slow time, then we begin to remember what life is actually all about. And these slow moments, that allow us to reflect and recuperate, will enable us to face the madness of life with an inner strength that reminds us what it is we are aiming for…..a life less busy.