Busy Is Not a Four-Letter Word

Mike Rohde's Custom Moleskine PlannerHave you noticed the variety of attitudes people have toward the word “busy”?  For some of us, busy is a really good thing. Example: A woman rushes into a restaurant twenty minutes after the agreed upon meeting time; she’s huffing and puffing and apologizing for being late while she bemoans the overload of her life. But she’s not truly unhappy about her status. Her busy-ness is a point of pride for her, an indication to her lunch partners that she is important; she has a lot going on. And for many of us, being busy can be a subtle indicator that we’re doing something, we’re involved, we’re in the game. For others, being busy means feeling needed. I know women who spend decades of their lives forfeiting their personal or career agendas to the needs of others—husband, household, children, parents, etc.  It feels good, even rewarding, to take care of people we care about.

And sometimes, busy-ness is a cover-up, a way to avoid the real work that needs to be done in a life. A way to push down the fear of self-knowledge or self-agency. This is one of the most insidious of the busy-ness patterns, and the most challenging to disrupt. As Steve Chandler, author of Time Warrior, says, “Being outwardly busy can be a sign of being inwardly lazy.”

And for others of us, busy is close to being a four-letter word. It can be a constant reminder we have failed to take authority in our own schedules or to understand the limits of our capacities.  A sign that something is really messed up in the way we’ve organized or executed our days.

And of course, where we are in our lives, our careers, our relational situations also determines the connotations this little word “busy” holds for us.  But it does seem that many of us see busy-ness as a hindrance to experiencing life in a friendly, leisurely fashion.

For years, I have sought what I call “white space” in my days, as in looking at my calendar and instead of seeing every section of the day relegated to a task or duty, I see ample sections of lovely white space. Having been one of those people who found herself perennially busy (for good as well as bad reasons), I have spent too much of my mental energy longing for a lifestyle of more openness, more serendipity, more space, even when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to “do” with this new found white space.

But a nice thing has happened to me in the last year; I got a tad smarter about this busy-ness crisis. I’ve been busier than I’ve ever been in my life, and happier than ever about it. How does that happen?

One major reason is the myriad undertakings filling my days are mostly meaning-full. In some way, large or small, they contribute to something I believe is important and worthwhile. And this shift has totally changed my notion about being busy. When you're busy being creative, helping people, creating something  you've never created before, learning things you never thought you could learn, shaping days in ways that are rich and alive and filled with good people, then even though you may be technically "busy," it isn't painful or frustrating or overwhelming the way other kinds of busy-ness can be. Actually, I don't think I would call myself "busy" these days; it's more accurate to say my days are "full."

I am consciously trying to craft artful days, days built upon balancing “doing” and “being,” and I start each day with a morning practice that establishes that intention anew (see previous blog post here).   As a result, my days feel open and spacious with room for possibility and serendipity to arise.

And that's vital. You don't want to be so busy, so crammed with stuff and details that nothing surprising can pop into your world. You can be really busy, but if that busy-ness is placed within a spacious medium, or maybe I should call it a background of openness, allowing something new or surprising or novel to enter your life experience, then you don't feel crushed by the busy-ness. You feel good about the busy-ness while at the same time allowing for opportunity and novelty to enter your space.

This is a practice. It takes conscious cultivation not only of your daily calendar, but also of your mindset, your attitude. It takes establishing a daily structure, but at the same time, expecting newness within that structure. This is what creativity feels like.

There are lots of organizational and time-management systems around to help us establish such a practice. (I've tried most of them!)  And people who have risen to the level of guru in this field  will gladly offer you their services. (And some are really good!)  They can certainly give you systems for getting more done, mostly with an emphasis on productivity.  But some of these systems can be brutal in the discipline, focus, a rigor they require.  Does it really have to be that hard, I wonder?

I'm all about getting things done, and even more, about high performance.  But I'm all about feeling good, too. Feeling relaxed. I and know that I feel good and relaxed when most of my activities are purposeful and meaningful to who I am striving to be, as well as to the mission of my work.

In the Buddhist tradition this is called dharma. When you are living your dharma you are in  harmony with the needs and requirements of the manifest world/body systems, but you are also aligned with offering your deepest work to the world—your teaching, your art, your services, your benefit to others.

When intentional life-structures are in place, you can be as busy as hell, but you’re in your dharma. You're creating the life that brings you joy and satisfaction. And it all feels good, the work, the play, the laundry, and the silence. It's all a part of open clarity, the huge data stream of experience that we dip into with every pulse of our heart.

It’s not either/or—full-out slammed with work vs. ten days of Zen on the beach. It’s both/and—fullness infused with white space. It's possible. It’s time.

Join us at LifeArt Studio to learn more about how to practice a new kind of busy-ness. We offer a no-cost, 90-minutes Creative Momentum Session to those wanting more information about upgrading your life systems so that you may flourish in your radiant life.  Connect with me through the Contact link on this website.


Photo Credit:  Mike Rohde via Compfight

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