I’m talking to you today if you feel too busy; overstretched, rushed, and overwhelmed as a result.
But here’s the thing: I don’t care what you’re busy doing.
Sorry, but it’s mostly true.
Because there isn’t any comparison in this. One person’s busy is another’s lazy, and all in between.
We don’t need busy shaming.
Even if we all had exactly the same ‘things’ in and going on around our lives, you may have more of them than another person, who will have more of them than yet another, and so on and so forth. And even if we all had exactly the things and the same amount of them, we’d each react differently to them anyway.
So I don’t mind about or need to know your particular circumstance.
What I do mind and care about is that you aren’t comfortable with your level of busy, whatever you happen to be busy with.
I get asked if I’m busy a lot, or people say ‘you look busy’ and my stock answer is this: I sometimes might be but not always in the right way. Because being busy does not automatically mean we are being productive or creating the outcomes we want.. Indeed, we can be busy doing all the wrong things. I fundamentally believe our busyness is simply the wrong thing to measure.
it persists around us, the need to be busy. There’s a societal and internal pressure to be someone, achieve things and be seen to be doing.
If we can take more of an internal approach to it to start with, we’re beginning from an integral place to us. What level of busy is right for me (and my family where relevant)? So instead of asking someone if they’re keeping busy, how about: ‘Are you happy, are you well, are you feeling balanced at the moment’ instead?
Also, we might be able to register in our mind how it feels to be busy, and see what our diary is telling us about our level of busy, but how do we know what our body is doing? If we’re performing optimally and in flow, our heart rate is steady and we’re efficiently pumping blood and oxygen – this is excitement and adrenaline used optimally. If we constantly push it, to move into stress, we’re adrenally exhausted, have fewer reserves physically and emotionally and perform less optimally in the longer term also.
Sometimes we become busy because we’re trying to pack our lives with so much experience to feel alive. We’re packing it full of admittedly exciting and happy things, but never taking time to slow down, stop, reflect, so we feel the stress of the busyness, without the fun of the activities.
But I feel a shift is on its way – we can perform, have what we’d like, be who we want to become without burning out and feeling run ragged we can live and work more flexibly and introduce boundaries to our ‘on’ and ‘off’ times – because whilst flexible working has given us so much, we’re less clear when our ‘off’ times are now than ever before.
It’s a complex matter – societally and internally for ourselves. But I’m going to break it down a little so we can start to break our own cycle of busy when we want.
The four types of busyness and their impact
As a result of qualitative reviews of my client session notes, gathering keywords from my facebook group and instagram following, and listening to what my community are struggling with, I’ve discovered four different ways to be busy.
- Physical / Mental busy
- Necessary / Additional busy
Here’s more on each.
Physical / Necessary
These are the things that we generally must do in our life. They might include dropping the kids at school, looking after a new baby, hospital appointments, making food, our commute, filing our accounts, the important project at work, etc. Physical/Necessary busy might feel like a lot in our day and cause us some rush at times, but it would ideally be manageable in our life.
Mental / Necessary
These are things that are important for us to think about that we can’t often avoid. Planning the following weekend, kind concern for a friend, thinking about money, etc. Mental / Necessary busy means we’re aware our brain is thinking and processing but it shouldn’t cause us too much stress.
Physical / Additional
This is the type of busy where we’ve allowed, or had to, take on a lot more than is necessary in our life that is filling up our diary/day/activity levels.
These include taking on that additional project at work that we didn’t absolutely have to, volunteering at hospital because we want to give back yet we already have quite a lot on, it even includes scrolling without purpose on social media because it fills our time but isn’t absolutely necessary (you might argue against this, no problem), and so on.
Having Physical / Additional busy in our lives feels stressful. It makes us late, it means we have a shorter fuse, and it means we definitely don’t have time for moments of quiet, self care and lifestyle activities that benefit us – water, eating, sleep.
Even physical additional activities that are meant to be positive, if squeezed into a packed day, a busy week, a stressed soul can add pressure.
Also, going back to the reason I said at the start that I don’t care about what you’re busy doing is this: each of us is so very different and it’s important you know what your own examples are for each type of busy. Because we can be physically additionally busy with things that do help us (e.g. that yoga class, making time to sit and read that book, finally, because they are still things ‘to do’ in the end) but if they’re making us feel more busy, and like we should simply be doing them to chill out and rest but they’re just going to make us feel more stressed, then they become physical additional things that don’t yet help us, without making adequate space for them first.
Mental / Additional
This is the type of busy that is a lot harder to identify. It’s rarely seen by others, however physically busy we may or may not be. It is difficult to work it out even ourselves, due to not always recognising it for what it is and/or it not even bothering us until we do recognise it: this is the over-thinking, the anxiety, the running through scenarios, the constant mind chatter that rarely lets up.
We can be physically chilled, quiet and finally have more space, yet if our mental levels of busy are rocketing, we’re going to struggle to feel OK, let alone anything towards good and relaxed, certainly immediately. This is why I talk about holidays not always being the best time to switch off, by the way. This level of mental busy is exhausting and overwhelming.
What constitutes the difference between mental necessary and mental additional though? We’ll each have a different way of noticing it, but essentially when our thoughts tip into something that no longer feels manageable or causes us distress in our mind, we’ve likely reached mental additional load.
Diagram of the four types of busy-ness identified
How to break the cycle of busy
Awareness is key in all of this. I guarantee that if you’ve read this far and are this interested in identifying your own level of busy, you’re someone who will benefit from understanding the different categories you fall into,. Now that you do know, you can identify which combination(s) you mostly fall into each day or at any one time, and thus combat it through acknowledgement and acceptance you’re in it, which is action enough.
If we’re in Physical / Necessary busy that’s manageable then cool. If it doesn’t feel like it is then what can you review to be adjusted and reduced and what could be shared? Are there things that you class as absolutely necessary that need to be recategorised to remove some pressure? Even if temporarily? If so, ask yourself why you’re holding onto it so tightly , what it will give you if you release it (freedom, space etc) and what that means for you (sometimes space can feel scary – I get it).
If you have far too much physical additional busy going on, what can you honestly adjust and say ‘no’ to right now? And what does having space in your diary, down-time and rest feel like to you? Why is it not valued? From my own perspective, I understand the need to keep going because you may not want to waste (precious) time, but if it’s causing stress and overwhelm that ain’t time preciously spent.
We also want to investigate this question: Is trying to be better, or the best, keeping you busy?
I recently had an over-busy week, in the process ironically of writing this blog and hosting this workshop.
But it was perfect timing. Because I could quickly review that I had a physically necessary and additional busy week, but that I was mentally very good. So I knew that I wasn’t experiencing difficult thoughts, and that I just had logistics to manage and not too much mental additional concern. I also knew that I had subsequence weeks that were far less physically busy coming up afterwards where I could recoup some of that energy.
(As an aside – this has taken years to be aware of and manage for myself, and comes off the back of serious illness and fatigue, the internal pressure to be someone and ‘achieve’ after said illness, and needing to manage my body and mind as a result of anxiety and trauma. I continue to work at it always, and get it wrong many times, but forgive myself for that and move on with as much damn acceptance as I can).
I also knew it was temporary – it wouldn’t last, and that’s the most important thing. If we’re physically busy for a short while this is one thing, but when it becomes longer term and rarely feels like it let’s up, that’s when we want to sit up and take notice.
Now, you can argue that the banker who needs her salary and works 80 hours a week, or the new mum who has no say in when her baby sleeps or feeds cannot for one minute know when their busy-ness is going to change. I partially agree – of course they can’t. But they may be able to start to know what additional mental busy they’re managing and there may be great ways they can get support or help to adjust for even the smallest amount of physical busy too (of course there will always be cases where this isn’t possible amongst each of us though).
Another point is this: you may notice in yourself that being physically busy makes you happy and fulfilled. This is great. It feels positive and enhancing. We feel valued.,. But what if we’re physically busy (necessary and/or additional) because we need the distraction. We’re avoiding looking at our mental load? What if we believe that if we stop having a packed diary, or adding lots of little (seemingly) necessary things into our lives, we won’t be someone anymore, or we’ll need to ask ourselves some difficult questions, or we’ll have too much time to reflect on difficult things?
I realise this sounds morbid and negative, but it’s just a theory, and one that might be partially true for some readers, thus worth exploring. It’s not a judgment – it’s something I explore both with myself and my clients.
This could suggest we want to re-work our view of what space, rest, doing less will make us feel like, and what impact it might have on our mind, to start to address the balance.
On to being Mental / Necessary busy. Here we want to get out of our heads and have these normal everyday thoughts and concerns become simple things to look at – so try to get them out of your head and into a system or tool (a spreadsheet, your notebook, your diary, a journal etc). They’ll possibly become part of your to do list maybe, but more than that they may just be emotions or worries that you don’t need to hold onto too much, and writing them down helps with perspective on which ones to think more about and which ones to let go of. out of your head and into a system. Also talk to someone about them – pass them onto someone if they’re overloading you, or get quick external perspective. Mental necessary busy shouldn’t cause too much concern, and when it does is when you know you’re feeling over-busy (or stressed, or anxious, or whatever term feels appropriate to you) and that’s when different help might be needed.
Mental additional busy is when the necessary has flipped into too much. So become aware of your own patterns of thinking – where and when do you feel like even smaller concerns become bigger? What do you seem to spiral in thinking about? Here we would try to cut the spiral before it starts, with awareness and self compassion – reminding ourselves that we’re OK even with these thoughts and this stress.
A check in too: is being or staying mentally busy causing us to not take any action – to never start anything, to overthink so much we’re in decision paralysis about even the simplest of tasks? This suggests we want to start processing our thoughts differently – sometimes with professional help of course – to ensure we’re not impacted so much by our thoughts to lead to a poorer quality of our day or life.
A good question amongst all of this is this: what’s normal? When we’ve pushed ourselves so much in the past, or when we need it to change, how do we know what’s acceptable with this distorted view? Really I’d like to keep it as simple as possible as recognising that irrespective of what’s normal for us or what we think is normal compared to others, if we’re concerned that any of our busy (even necessary) is causing us trouble, then we deserve to look closer at it.
Most of all – if we can then develop acceptance of the pace, style, comfort, abilities, beliefs and goals that are right for us and not someone else’s benchmark, we’re onto the right track.
In terms of breaking the cycle, that canny process that keeps us going back for more and more, like a drug, even when we’ve put things in place to stop or prevent it happening?
Well I’ll circle back to two earlier points – I don’t care what you’re actually busy with, I care that you want things to be and feel different for you, that you’re motivated enough to start with awareness. And I care that you’re interested in adjusting, removing, changing both the pressure you feel you have to put on yourself to be and stay busy (mentally and physically), and the pressure you feel externally for the same reasons.
Who said we had to be and stay busy to achieve, do and have all we want? There are other ways to be the best person we can be without stretching, pushing, squeezing everything in.
Be happy again, and break your cycle of busy.
The journey I can support you in
Introducing you to the types of busy and sharing how you can adjust for them is one thing, but what if you want more now? What if you want guidance and ways of looking at this that are specific to you? What if you want real change that makes a genuine difference to you and has a long term impact in your life?
I’d like to introduce you to the way I can help you do this:
The hub is my accessible membership which supports you in the following ways, meaning you can assess your own levels of busy through these components:
- Live monthly lesson learning re gentle living concepts and group coaching (community and cultivation)
- Weekly expert guidance with time with me (connection)
- Regular live meditations for commitment to focus and calm (calm)
When you join you’ll also have
- A video lesson on arrival creating your vision of a more gentle life
Plus in November and December alone you’ll have access to:
- Five day challenge on learning to say no kindly
- Mini podcast episode for members
Join as a founding member for support on not just your levels of busy but so much more.
Doors close 30th October 2018.