A week before the end of term, my Masters of Education students were talking before class about how very busy they were (working full-time, finishing term, juggling family responsibilities, etc. etc.). I sat and listened, and before long the room resonated with bzzzbzzzbzzzbzzz. It made me realize I’d been hearing the ‘busy’ refrain for a long time – colleagues no longer respond to “how are you?” with fine; instead they say they’re “busy.” Students have noted they are often overwhelmed with busy-ness (Acai, 2013 and others).
I thanked the class and told them they’d helped me make a significant decision: I would no longer contribute to the rhetoric around busy-ness. I said I was no longer going to say “I’m busy” (imagine much laughing and disbelief from this group of students, some of whom know me quite well!). I mused that I would in future reply that my life is rich and full – but I’m not busy. Amidst more laughter I promised I would report back on my experiment the following week.
For that week, in response to colleagues and friends asking how I was, I replied I was doing well – and not busy. Sometimes colleagues pressed further – it was, after all, close to the end of term – surely, they prompted, I must be busy with marking? I began to take perverse delight in their looks of surprise when I insisted “no, I’m not busy – life is rich and full, but I’m not busy” and their confused expressions as they carried on with their busy tasks. There was a sense that I had finally lost my mind!
Cognitive behaviourist theory and neuro-linguistic programming may say this should be so, but I was still surprised to find that after about 3 days I began to feel a lot less busy. I became increasingly aware of feeling differently about my work and its place in my life. Note that: work is not life, merely one of its component parts. I stopped waking each morning thinking of the four or more things that needed doing – now!
Life has shifted. While I kept wondering, having been socialized into the “cult of busy” for many years, whether I would suddenly wake up from this daze and find I was seriously behind in all aspects of my life and work, in fact, the reverse has happened. My marking was all done (for three courses) within a week of end of term. I completed a book chapter on behalf of a very dear friend and colleague who had passed away – something I’d been having a lot of trouble fitting in when I was “so busy.”
Now that I’m no longer ‘busy,’ my life is indeed full and rich – and I’m so glad I’m NOT busy – I’m accomplishing so much more of the things that really matter, and feeling better as a result.
I continue to tell this story to all who will listen: based on my seemingly insignificant experience, whatever anyone can do to trouble the “cult of busy” may in fact make a major difference to one’s outlook, achievements, and overall well-being. May your 2014 be rich and full.