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Find Peace in a Busy Life

Photo by Vadim Pacev
Life is just a quick succession of busy nothings. ~Jane Austen

Do you remember the last time you asked someone how work was? How about life in general? What was their response?

What did you say the last time you were asked those questions? I bet I know. It’s the same thing almost everyone I talk to says, and something I’ve been keeping track of the past few weeks.

The unanimous answer: “busy”

The response is almost programmed. No need to think. And then they look at me proudly, as if I should be impressed. Well, I can’t say that I am.

I must admit that “busy” has been my response for years. But how did we all of a sudden find ourselves in a society where busy was the most acceptable way to be spending our time?

We’ve talked of being busy for so long that we’ve forgotten that being busy was never the goal. We are not on this earth to be busy. We are here to build relationships, experience life, go places, create things, help others, or whatever else you decide. Our reasons for being will all be different but I have a feeling that none of us feel we are here simply to be busy. But this thinking has lead us to think busy is good…no matter what we’re busy with.

Being busy is not the way we should measure our worth. As mentioned in The Beginner’s Guide to Being Congruent, it is up to each of us to decide how we ought to be spending our time. I do not believe being busy is a worthy goal for any of us. Before you know it, you might get caught up being busy doing worthless things.

Sadly the business world continues to train us this way as employees are expected to put in 8 (or 10 or 12) hours of work a day even though some days we might have only 2 or 4 hours of productive things to do. But since we must seem busy, we fill the time. Maybe with Facebook, chatting, or web surfing. It’s poor life training. Tim Ferriss calls this Work For Work’s Sake and it isn’t helping.

I propose a revolt against being busy

Don’t get me wrong, I am not encouraging laziness or not getting things done. It’s quite the opposite. I’ve known business leaders and executives who’s schedules have enough going on to give you a migraine, yet they don’t feel busy at all. They feel calm, happy and congruent. If something important comes up, they have time for it.

Then I’ve met retired men who have all the time in the world to spend as they please, yet they always seem to be too busy for this or for that. Too busy for the things they love. They can never find enough time.

How can this be?

I’ve realized that busy is simply a state of mind. A state that often causes stress, unhappiness and waisted energy.

Commit to not being busy

I propose that we all take a moment to stop, recognize this unhealthy state, and make the decision to no longer be busy. Enjoy the weight that gets lifted off your back simply by changing your focus. Perception is reality and none of us need busy to be that reality. I bet you’ll get even more done and have time left over to do the things you really care about.

Personal Story: Don’t be too busy to serve your purpose

Last week I had a very full schedule. Meetings, events, projects. I had mapped out my whole calendar to be sure it all fit. Then right in the middle of the week I got a call from someone who wanted to get together for an hour to discuss her potential career transition. She had been with a company for over 14 years and recently began feeling as if she was in “career purgatory”, as she put it.

A while back I decided that anytime someone needs help with a topic of such importance (especially when they use those words…), I’d make it a priority to do all I can to help. My calendar was packed, but there was no way I was too busy to sit down with her. I met her for an hour coffee and didn’t leave for two and a half. It turned out to be the most rewarding, fulfilling and entertaining two and a half hours I’d spent all week.

She thanked me for meeting on such short notice and said “I can’t believe you could make time so quickly with how busy you must be.” Everyone assumes everyone is so busy. Little did she know I’d recently decided that busy wasn’t for me. This was exactly how I wanted to spend my time. I just hadn’t planned on it when the week started.

Life can never be too busy for the things that matter most to you. If you don’t have time for those, the busywork won’t matter anyway.

I am done being busy. That is no longer my response to life…and I am the guy who has a pile of todo’s and actions so long that they will likely never all get done. My calendar looks like a 19th century mosaic with all the things scheduled and planned. But that does not mean I’m busy. And that’s liberating.

Give it a try. This week, take the “I’m not busy challenge”. All you have to do is commit to not responding to anyone with how busy you are (even if it feels like you are totally swamped). Don’t even adjust your schedule. Just change your language. It will be harder than you think. You’ll stumble on what words to use to replace the cultural norm. Try “exciting” or “full” or maybe “all kinds of fun things”. And if they ask directly if you’ve been busy…give the refreshing answer “Nope I haven’t been busy at all.” Then begin to act like it. Enjoy the tranquility that follows.

How busy are you right now? Pride and satisfaction are not found in busy. Decide not to be. It doesn’t mean you don’t get things done. It just means you do them calmly and with intent.

“Being busy does not always mean real work.
The object of all work is production or accomplishment
and to either of these needs there must be
forethought, system, planning, intelligence,
and honest purpose as well as perspiration.
Seeming to do is not doing.”

~ Thomas Alva Edison

* How does it feel to leave busy behind? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below. See you there!

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About the author

Read more inspiring articles from Scott Dinsmore at Reading For Your Success where he is committed to making your life and career a success through "action-based reading". Subscribe here to Scott's future articles.

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52 thoughts on Find Peace in a Busy Life

  1. Scott just blows me away with his insight and passion for thoughtfully chosen thoughts and words. I was an English major and once loved to read works other than business journals. I know that no matter how b… I am, I need to make the time to read and write so that I can get back to my roots. With passion, I accept your challenge, Scott! Glad that we had the opportunity to share Toastmasters together and look forward to a coffee with you in SF, though I will allow you to plan the activity! Cheers.

  2. Hi again, Scott. You’re so right. It does sometimes make one feel a little like asserting oneself since many people take ‘not being busy’ as a negative thing. But then one realized, true power lies within. Thanks for the thought.

  3. Yesss! Let’s revolt again being busy! It’s one of my biggest realizations… when I started my business I decided to rename it my “focusiness” because I want to do focused work, not just busy-go-go-go work that doesn’t get me anywhere.

  4. Jenny

    Make a priority to important things.Settle your issues.Arrange your business.It’s much pity that now I have no intent to do my necessary things and the deadlings is coming ,how COULD I do ,though I want to adopt you advice and follow your thoughts.but in reality ,I have no power to do that.

  5. @ Françoise: There’s no way this stuff would come to me if it was not for real life experiencing and learning ;). The next step is sharing/teaching it. I’m so glad it clicked for you.

    -Scott

  6. @ Rena: So true. I’m glad you have your own system in place. The key is making time for yourself to actually be and take in the world. I am actually up in Lake Tahoe, Nevada doing that right now. Up here all alone for 4 nights just doing my best to simply be. Incredibly refreshing!

    Thanks for the comment,

    Scott

  7. @ Greg: Very cool of you to drop by for a read. Your comment means a lot. Few things feel better for me than reading and writing. I encourage you to make some time to see how it feels. The learning and expression it allows is amazing. I miss all of you in TM like crazy. I have a feeling I will not find another group like you all. Coffee in SF it is. Let’s just make sure neither of us are too busy ;)

    Scott

  8. @ Nathalie: Then we shall revolt together! Although it sounds like you are well on the right track. The nice thing about starting a business is that there are so many important things to do that it almost forces you to do away with the busy work (if you’re disciplined, which it sounds like you are). Then the key is still taking some time to yourself so you don’t get run into the ground. That’s a constant battle as an entrepreneur.

    Btw, just this morning I read about your site and story in Jonathan Mead’s ebook The 0 Hour Work Week. Small world it is out here. I love what you’re up to. I happen to be on a raw food cleanse of my own as we speak. Keep up the awesome work!

    Thanks for the comment,
    Scott

  9. @ Jenny: I hear you that there’s a lot going on. I think most important is to think simply about the mindset of being conscious of how you spend your time. Busy is a state of mind. That is the most amazing thing. Start there and I think you’ll enjoy it.

    I appreciate the comment,
    Scott

  10. It’s a bit comforting knowing that I have not been the only one to think about being a busy bee lately. School, friends, and just the day-to-day things that keep anyone busy does not leave any room for personal time.

    I think the quotation “Life can never be too busy for the things that matter most to you. If you don’t have time for those, the busywork won’t matter anyway” is so perfect for this blog post and means so much to me at this point in time that I am going to start to make more time.

  11. In this fast-paced world, it’s easy to get caught up. We receive tons of email everyday. We can be reached by phone at anytime. We experience information overload.

    To add to that, we are pressured to achieve. To have it all. Money, love, health, beauty…The list is endless. The aim is to be perfect. To have the perfect life.

    Thanks for your post. I resolve to revolt against busyness. Focus on priorities and do one thing at a time.

  12. I love being busy. Let’s just say that it keeps me sane. But I see to it that I don’t neglect other things and make it a point that I still have for myself.

  13. It is hard to find balance when you have a busy life. The trick for me is to schedule time for myself to do nothing get a pedicure or walk on the beach. Scheduling downtime is how I cope.

  14. Nayan

    Hi Tina,

    I do not know how did i find TSN.. But i can assure you i will keep coming.

    Awesome self boosting content required for every thought hungry soul.

    Nayan

  15. @ Frank: I can certainly relate. I happen to be having one of those days today where it feels like the schedule has gotten more filled up with “things” than I’d prefer. So I got up and took a little walk to clear my head. Just realize it’s never that bad and there is always time for the things that are most importnat…as long as they are most important.

    You say you have hardly any room for personal time but above that you mention you have a lot going on with friends among other things. That’s sounds like it’s headed in the right direction. It’s possible that the reason you are so “busy” is because you’ve already fit in a lot of what you want to. It’s always still worth stopping and reflecting but that’s another way to look at it.

    I hope you enjoy the extra time you come up with!

    Scott

  16. @ Ivee: One thing that might help is defining specific times for each of the things you mentioned. i.e. Only email for 30 min in the morning and evening and phone calls from 10-11am and 2-3pm. The rest of the time is yours to do the urgent and important. It’s easier said than done and those are just examples but it can help to commit to not getting pulled into all these reactionary things from the get go.

    Thanks for the comment,

    Scott

  17. @ Miranda: It’s sounds like your definition of busy is living an enjoyable life with time for the things that matter. I love it! No reason to change that.

    Scott

  18. @ Evan: I like the idea of scheduling down time. Of all the important things on our calendar, you’d think some time for ourselves would rank way up there. Important thing to remember. I am going to revisit this as I go through my weekly planning.

    Thanks!
    Scott

  19. I feel like I have my diet and exercise under control. I’m fairly fit. Maybe I could be better. I do not have my schedule under control and it causes me problems all the time. I also need to stop staying up all night working. I need to not be busy.

  20. I love this idea, but I think it would be really interesting to see how people reacted. They’re so used to hearing “busy” or “good” that a different answer might throw them off. If you say relaxing or something similar, I feel like, not only would they be surprised, they might also be a little jealous or even condescending? Either they would like to be less busy or they’d feel like they were better than you for having more going on. Or maybe that’s just my cynicism talking :)

  21. i left my job before because it didn’t allow us to have time for our family anymore. i understand that we all need to be busy and work to sustain and provide for our family. but i think it is wrong already when we do not have enough time for them. keeping it balanced is a must and a priority for me.

  22. Thank you for your article! I loved the part about not being so busy that you cannot serve your purpose and the focus you have on relationships and connecting with people. You are right on target when you say business is not a measure of our worth. Keep the the good work!

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