Do you find that you seem to be busy all the time? I am not sure if you have noticed this or not, but every blessing can also be a curse. In these modern times of instant everything we benefit from fast access to communications like email. Whereas in the old days you would have to wait days for mail. We can talk on the phone where ever we are instead of having to wait until we get home or use a payphone. All of this has helped us do things faster, but it has had a negative side effect. We are busier than ever, able to fill up each minute with an activity or distraction.
When I started college, I never had any free time. I had so much homework, studying, and reading to do that I even lamented the fact that I had no time to read for fun. I was looking forward to graduating and being able to give my mind a much needed rest. Have you ever felt this way? Like you just needed to give your mind a rest? For that first year, I was just too busy. I couldn’t think of anything but my studies. To do so might mean missing something important and getting a bad grade. I was determined to succeed and being busy seemed to be the best path. It is the path I have seen so many others take in my culture. It must be the way. Right?
After only one year, I was so exhausted that I didn’t know how I could keep going. It was time to try something different so I lowered my expectations and relaxed my study habits. I still made sure to attend every class and do all my homework, but I managed my study time and stopped when I felt burnt out. I didn’t stay up studying the night before a test anymore, instead I got a good night sleep. Instead of panic studying in the hall for 15 minutes before a test, I made sure to have a good meal. All counter intuitive choices, I know. I expected my grades to fall a little, but instead, they went up. In fact, I had such a high grade in one class, that I only needed to get 37 points on the final (worth 20% of the grade) to keep my A! I was amazed.
It turns out that we are actually more productive when we stop being so busy. So, why are we so busy and how can we slow down?
Too busy! The 4 biggest reasons why we are so busy
1. We value productivity
For some reason, we equate being busy with being productive and being productive is something we value highly in this world. Productivity means you are succeeding, and we think that filling up every minute with activity is what being productive means. But is that really productive? If I am rushing around from place to place and only half paying attention to what I am doing, am I really being as productive as I could be? The answer is likely, no.
So how can we actually be productive without the need to feel busy? In his article in Inc. Magazine, Larry Kim gives a great comparison between productive people and busy people. Essentially, productive people are actually less busy which helps them stay focused on what is important. It really is all about balance.
2. We don’t want to be alone with our thoughts
A study published in Science, illustrates this point. An excerpt from the abstract reads as follows:
“In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.”
It seems that we view thinking as doing nothing, therefore we fill up our time with busy work to feel productive. In all reality though, having mental downtime is essential for productivity. Scientific American explains, “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
3. We love new technology
We have all seen the lines for the new Iphone when it comes out, even if we haven’t actually stood in one ourselves. As creatures, we humans love new things and technology is no exception. Think about it. People seem to go wild about the new season’s fashions, the next new technology, the coolest apps, and ‘seen on TV’ inventions. We can’t seem to help ourselves!
Technology can definitely improve our lives. I know I save time by not having to turn the light switches on and off when I enter and leave a room. In theory, I save money on electricity too since I never have to worry about lights being left on. At the same time, it can be difficult to sleep sometimes because the motion sensors are sensitive and the lights turn on randomly. It can also cost more if the lights turn on when my cat goes in the basement tripping the motion sensor. In these cases, I find myself wasting time and energy turning lights off that never should have been on in the first place. My point here is that technology can easily make our lives more stressful and busy if we aren’t careful.
It is important to manage the technology in our lives and to make sure that it really is helping us save time. If we let it get out of control, it can contribute to our feeling too busy!
4. We are lazy
As I struggled to write last week, I found myself filling my days with petty chores. I convinced myself that getting these things done was essential to my being able to focus on the difficult task of actually working. So, I mowed the lawn, cleaned out the coat closet, and decorated for Halloween. I was certain that I had all of this work to do that was more pressing. The truth is, doing those chores was easier. I didn’t have to be creative or make sense while I was organizing the tool box in the back of the coat closet. I was really just being busy to avoid doing something that was more difficult.
This is procrastination; being busy for busy sake and not really getting anything done. This is being busy because of laziness! I know! It blew my mind too. Take a look at this guy, Tim Ferriss. He wrote a book called “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.” In it he makes the argument that “indiscriminate activity is a form of laziness,” and that it actually impedes our productivity. I wish I would have known this last week!