Balancing act: Pause, reflect and avoid 'worship of busyness'

Published: Tuesday, May 21 2013 9:15 a.m. MDT

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Today is my 44th birthday, and you would think that knowing another year had passed would make me feel old and exhausted.

But you'd be wrong.

I actually feel pretty good, if a bit tired. And even the tiredness is more due to the time of year than anything else, as we rush around to our children's athletic competitions, concerts and end-of-year school programs.

Yes, we're busy. But we're trying to avoid the "worship of busyness" that seems so common in our culture these days.

I wrote recently about the tendency for some people to go on and on, telling others how busy they are. It's a trap I've fallen into myself, although I'm trying to avoid it.

In that column last month, I mentioned a recent blog post by Janet Choi, the chief creative officer at iDoneThis. She suggested that people who talk constantly about how busy they are actually have a different message they're trying to convey: they're "super-important," for example, or they're afraid. Others use their busyness as a ready excuse to avoid doing something they don't want to do.

Choi also mentioned that the people who are truly swamped seem to be the ones who talk about it the least and get the most done, usually with big smiles on their faces. I used my wife as an example of someone who fits that mold.

The problem we face is that today's society glorifies the cult of busyness. And that begs the question I posed in the previous column: How can we fill our time with meaning instead of just filling our time?

As promised in the earlier column, I want to share Choi's responses to this question, as well as some readers' responses that seemed to follow along the same vein.

First, Choi suggests that you track how you use your time with an "attention audit." Log the number of minutes you spend on each meaningful task and time-wasting activity, and you may be surprised at what you find.

Next, "check your language." Choi borrows this tip from author Laura Vanderkam, who suggests that instead of saying "I don't have time" to do a particular activity, you should try saying "it's not a priority."

"Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation," Vanderkam writes. "I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: 'I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.' 'I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.'

"If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently."

Choi goes on to suggest that we can change our definition of "productivity" to encompass those things that are our top priorities. And then she recommends that we "press pause."

"Not only do we need to rest and renew, we also have to slow down and pause to acknowledge our feelings, celebrate our accomplishments and gain some insight," Choi writes.

Finally, she recommends that we "do less and feel more joy."

"The opposite of the fear of missing out, as Anil Dash so beautifully wrote, is the joy of missing out," Choi writes. "Pay attention to what’s in front of you, and you’ll gain control and find joy. … Feel more joy. Learn how to do less."

I love these last few points, and they reminded me of a story emailed to me by a reader named Mark.

"One evening way past 5:00 I was riding down the elevator with our CFO and his secretary," Mark wrote. "He asked me about my plans for that evening, and I replied about the myriad of home improvement projects on my list. Then he proceeded through his long list of meetings and appointments that would go well into the night.

"After a brief moment of silence his secretary, who didn’t seem to be interested in playing the busy card, replied, 'I’m going to drink a glass of wine and watch TV.' Nobody spoke after that."

While drinking a glass of wine and watching TV may not be everyone's idea of a good way to spend time, clearly the secretary in this story knew how to "press pause" and to feel more joy by doing less.

Another reader, commenting online, made a similar point.

"I have noticed there is a definite negative connotation with NOT being busy," this reader wrote. "If you aren't busy and trying to achieve 600 things at a time, then you must be lazy. I think we often times make ourselves busy with things we don't really need to do. You would think with all of the conveniences of modern living we would have more free time than ever, and in reality I think we do have more discretionary time than ever, we just choose to fill it up with even more stuff.

"I personally try to keep my life pretty simple, with varying levels of success. I hate being super-busy, not because I am lazy, but because it makes life fly by way too fast."

As I mark another birthday, I'm highly cognizant of the speed at which time is flying for me. My gift to myself today is going to include not talking about being busy, but instead focusing on feeling joy in what I'm doing and in the simple pleasures of my truly blessed life.

I hope you'll all celebrate with me by doing the same.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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