The Culture of Busyness
Busyness seems to have become the new cool, a positioning statement for individuals. How busy you are or rather are perceived to be determines how hard you seem to work or how dedicated you are. This is even more evident in our Country with a high-power distance index. For me too it was no different! As a young management professional, I was ambitious about my career and making it big. From the start, I was very clear about my aim to become a successful CEO and was prepared to do what it takes by doing the hard work and put in long hours. My typical workday consisted of 16-18 hours and more during month ends. Efforts in my professional life took a toll on my personal life as I used to reach home very late and miss out on spending time with wife & children. However, I always dismissed this thought as a small sacrifice to achieve my goals, as what I aimed to achieve was not only for myself but also for the long term comfort of my family and loved ones. Many self-imposed and common advices such as – being busy is better than the opposite etc. also reinforced this thought.
Whenever I used to reach home, I would find my daughter waiting for me. She would greet me, give me a glass of water, ask me about my day and then retire to her bed. Whenever she would ask me about my day, my response would always be the same, I would tell her – “My day was hectic and I was very busy”. On one such day, I reached home very late, well beyond my regular time. I was surprised to find my daughter still waiting for me. She was sleeping on the couch and as I walked-in she woke up and gave me a glass of water and then went off to sleep. This small incident deeply impacted me. I felt guilty, that between all her activities my daughter still prioritizes me, at all stages, she thinks about me and is considerate towards me, but somewhere I have lost the time I could have spent with my loved ones. I felt that between all my efforts to achieve my aim, I had forgotten the importance of spending time with my family and loved ones, of being there for my children as they were growing up, being there for my wife while she provided me with constant and steady support.
That incident changed my perspective. I started to realize that much of the busyness I assumed was self-imposed and was the result of my ambition or drive or anxiety. I am sure all of you must have your own set of activities where you would like to indulge on a daily or weekly basis. There are certain things which we do for earning a living while other activities which we do for ourselves or others. Unfortunately in this rat race, activities we do for ourselves have taken precedence over what we do for others. It’s a common phenomenon that when anybody – a friend, colleague or family member – asks us for anything out of the blue or even if they are simply reaching out to us, many times we answer that we are BUSY.
Being Busy is A Decision
Is this busyness out of necessity or are we addicted to it? Does our mantra of busyness and chronic unavailability validate us? Does it make us feel more important? Or is it due to societal perception that a busy person is a valued and important one? We are so obsessed with busyness in our lives that we feel anxious or guilty when we are not working. This fervor has reached to a point where not being busy is seen as being redundant. Our busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance – that our life is not meaningless because we have been so busy and in demand every hour of the day.
Surprisingly, this mania of being busy is not a natural turn of life, rather it’s an outcome of our passive choices and undefined priorities. More than how much work we actually get done in a day, we equate our self-worth to how busy we appear to the outside world. As a result, we pack our day with much stuff and stop enjoying what we’re doing in anticipation of what’s next to do. Due to this self-created notion of busyness, we tend to lose track of the big picture, important environment shifts, and valuable relationships. It ultimately becomes our addiction and we start concealing our fears and vulnerabilities behind the busyness facade. However, being busy is not same as being productive because since it’s not just the absence of time, but is rather about the absence of choice.
How to Break Free
When we give in to the culture of busyness, we give up one of the greatest tools we have for being productive and happy i.e. REST. Idleness is not just a vacation but is indispensable for the human mind. Space and quietness it provides is an essential requirement for viewing the big picture and ultimately getting work done. History is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments as dreams like Newton’s apple or discovery of benzene’s ring structure by August Kekulé. Sometimes one has to be still to look at the bigger picture!
So how should we get out of this trap of busyness? Well stepping out of the already running hamster’s wheel isn’t going to happen overnight. But if we can make small changes – by slowing down, by giving precedence to self-care as we are our best selves when we take care of ourselves, by setting boundaries, by learning to say NO, by disconnecting technology and reaching out to real people and by outsourcing and delegating – we will make space in our lives for the things which matter to us. IT would be anything from spending time with family, working out, doing yoga or meditation, reading a good book etc. Breaking free or being free is essential for your physical and emotional well-being.
Remember life is not worth if loaded with endless busyness. Along with our challenges and adventures, we have to make room for mundane tasks and quiet reflection and we will soon find that less activity can be more fulfilling, give us peace and stillness to enjoy what is important in our life. Some of you may feel that it’s easy for me to say this now that I’ve become a CEO, but I’ll give you a little secret. I do agree that sometimes it does seem easy to talk from a different perspective once you have reached a certain position, but I too have learnt from friends who are much older to me. Just like how they share their life journey and their learnings, similarly, this blog is my humble effort to talk about my life lessons on busyness and the power of taking an intentional break. Believe me, when we come back after a self-gifted pause, we return stronger, refreshed and more focussed along with a healthy body, peaceful mind and improved relationships by our side. This makes life beautiful, and worth striving for.