At least a few times a week, I have the “busy” conversation with someone. Here’s how it goes down:
The person will ask me if I’m “busy” or will volunteer that they are “busy.”
I’ll offer my insight into the problem of “busy.” And the other person will qualify the original comment with this:
I meant the “good” busy.
And then I laugh. Usually to myself. Sometimes out loud.
Not at the person, but at the illusion of “good” busy.
The Myth of “Good” Busy
I’ve lost count at how many people have told me that busy is “good.”
Here’s a question: who is it good for?
I’ve noticed that when I’m on the receiving end of someone who is busy I feel unimportant, unvalued, uncared about. Like I’m just another box to check in a day of tasks, a piece to move on the way to getting somewhere else.
In short, I don’t feel very good.
Here are some of the things I’ve noticed in myself when I’m believing my story of busy:
- I feel weighted down by all the things I need to get done.
- I rush from one thing to the next in my day.
- I am less present and patient with everyone, including myself.
- I am more likely to make mistakes or rash decisions.
- I am easily agitated, angered, and frustrated, especially when things or people are moving slowly.
- I see small issues as big problems.
- I listen less and interrupt more.
- I expect people to do things my way and on my schedule.
- I seek to control the process and the outcome.
- I feel resentful of the people who are demanding my time and not allowing me the space for what I need to do.
- I feel guilty for letting other people down or for letting myself down.
Physically, I feel my chest constrict, my shoulders and neck get tight, my hip flexors shorten. It hurts to move.
Busy does not give me the space I need to share my best work. It doesn’t feel good for me, and I can’t imagine that anyone in my path walks away feeling good.
Your Nervous System on Busy
Busy sends a signal to the nervous system that there’s no time and a lot to do. It sends a message that triggers the fight-flight-freeze-faint response. This is meant to keep us safe. In the immediate short term, the adrenaline rush, if you get it, may help you get things done. So busy can feel productive.
In fact, for most of my life, busy was my productivity strategy. I fueled myself on the adrenaline rush of being busy.
I learned the hard way that this is not sustainable for long-term productivity. Eventually the body and mind wear out from the constant rushing to meet deadlines and get it all done. It’s similar to how, if you constantly keep your phone plugged in, after a while your phone battery doesn’t hold a charge.
If the body and mind don’t get the recovery and rest they need, they find a way to demand it. For me, the constant busyness led to illness and injury at various points in my life (because the lessons didn’t sink in the first time). Others aren’t so lucky.
“Good” busy, if it exists at all, is a temporary state that, in the long term, is revealed as not being good at all.