How to Tell if You Really are Busy?

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

It’s such a painful cliche. To talk about how busy we are. 

Here’s a hot take for you. 

I don’t think we’re all that busy.

That’s right. I think it’s all a bunch of bullshit.

I mean, I have a job. I go to work. I go to the grocery store. I even have a family, a dog, and a mortgage. I’m not walking into this statement eyes closed. 

Still, I don’t buy it. 

And don’t get me wrong. I do, completely, from the bottom of my heart, think most people believe themselves to be busy. I just don’t think it’s real. 

Think about your last run-in with friends and family. You’re at your cocktail party or dinner, or whatever the hell you do on the weekend, and what’s the first thing they tell you? They sigh and tell you how busy their life is.

“Ah, I have to take Jimmy to school and baseball, and then back home to make dinner and then homework, and on top of that, my boss is working me to an early grave. What a dick.”

But two glasses of cab in, and we’re all discussing how we binged that series on Netflix in three days.

Listen, life is hard. I get it. We need our veg time. I’m not discounting that. 

I’m simply suggesting that busyness might not be at the core of this feeling we have. This feeling that nothing ever gets done. That we must constantly be on the move. 

The anxiety we foster towards work and life. 

Here’s what I do think. And I say this freely seeing it in myself as well as others. 

I don’t think we’re busy. I think we’re frantic. 

OH GOD, IT’S HAPPENING!

I work in tech. It’s a thing. 

I mean, it’s fine. I’m happy to have a job, and I like technology. I have an iPhone, etc. But the people who work in tech are kind of a pain in the ass. 

Luckily, they make a good cohort to analyze for my frantic hypothesis. If only that they’re playing grown up in an arena of high risk and high reward. The current iteration of a business Thunderdome. 

The attitude at my office, and I can only speak for myself, falls somewhere on the spectrum between paranoia and blind enthusiasm. Late-night texting. Scatter shots of ideas. “Oh shit, we need to do something” meetings full of more craziness. 

Nothing unique here. You probably see it all the time at home and at work. Right?

Wrong, this is straight spazzing. 

We’re like June bugs, jumping between spaces and ideas, never letting anything develop to fruition. Myopic. Scared of getting behind the curve.

And I’m not talking about that one guy. The VP of whatever that no one invites to meetings anymore.

I’m talking about all of us. This is the norm.

And it hurts my insides. 

But Why? 

You’d think that for all the blog posts about life hacks, the books about process improvements, and the apps dedicated to simplifying and optimizing our lives, peeps would be better at pulling it together. Not, as I’ve suggested, becoming increasingly frantic. 

Here’s my thesis: (probably should have led with this). Low-level anxiety, born of modern living, has made us terrified of a fear we can not see or even accurately identify. The result is that we live in a perpetual state of stress and fear with no acceptable or lasting form of relief. 

(To clarify, by modern living, I don’t mean the past 20 years. I mean as opposed to our hunter and gatherer forefathers and cave people.)

In our modern world, anxiety is everywhere because solutions are not obvious. Instead, they are, subverted. Thousands of years ago we supported our families by hunting and small scale agriculture. If we had a bad crop because it didn’t rain, we freaked out until it rained. If a bear chased us on a hunt, we had stress until we killed the bear. 

Stress existed, but the solutions were simple. They were obvious. 

KILL THE BEAR!

The same held true of relationships. There was no dating scene or fights over relocating for jobs and making enough money to buy a Lexus. There were people working together to survive. 

Knowledge work and modern relationships are simply more complex than this because the stakes and necessities of them have been contorted relatively recently.  

Now, we support our families by trying to locate solutions to complicated and non-linear problems. We place stress on our families with unrealistic expectations brought on by social media porn, where cultivated experiences parade as reality. 

Shit.is.hard. 

Our monkey brains can not deal.

And don’t get me wrong. All of these changes have brought about great improvement to our daily lives. Life today is undoubtedly superior to tigers and bears chasing you. Or more likely, you starving. Hell, life is even better than it was 50 years ago. We live in a time of increased safety, consumer capitalism, minority rights, caged tigers, etc. 

But with the good, so too comes the bad. Namely, people are spazzes. 

We jump around like crazy busy assholes that lack the ability to accurately assess harm vs safety. We try our hardest to mitigate risks we can’t even see. Hell, we don’t even know if they’re real. FEAR IS EVERYWHERE.

Modern work, modern families, modern life, these things are hard because our brains weren’t built for them. The threats that were once obvious are now invisible. In the modern work and life economy, there’s always a tiger hiding in the bushes. The result is that the fear never fully dissipates. We’re all running with a baseline of stress we were never designed to carry. 

An Alternative 

Here’s the real kicker. Not being frantic, not being stressed out, not being a spaz, has SO many benefits. 

Here’s a couple: 

1) Being busy has little to do with being productive. In fact, most SUPER BUSY PEOPLE are typically the least efficient. Sorry. 

2) People that are calm, and can slow down their thought processes, seem calmer and more confident. Yeah, that cool AF guy you know very rarely spazzes out. 

3) People have bad ideas under stress. Lots of them. All the time. This is why you said that thing that you wish you could take back to your boyfriend/girlfriend/friend/boss the other day. 

So what are we to do? 

How to stop being frantic, a 34 step process

So clearly, the answer to being frantic is to STOP being frantic. But how can we even do that? 

Oh god, if I knew, I’d be a billionaire. 

Here’s the thing. I could give you a list of like 12 bullshit things (11 of them would be either meditate or yoga)  but where would that leave you? You know you wouldn’t do any of it anyways. 

Instead, let’s be real. 

If you want to stop being a frantic jackass do the following: 

Stop glorifying being busy.

The biggest way to do this: Stop telling people how busy you are. Done.

Stop forcing life. 

Take the time to do it right.

If you can’t do it right, don’t do it. Just like dad always told you. 

Think.before.you.speak/act/do 

Make a plan and know your goals 

One of the biggest reasons people struggle with busyness and franticness is because they’re so focused on what is right in front of them. Listen, the answer is never right in front of you. This type of myopia stems from 2 things. 1) Not articulating your full strategic vision, for what you want 2) Not executing a plan to achieve that long term vision. 

DO NOT BE REACTIVE.

This will very rarely solve your problems. All good things are achieved with time and consistency. I know it’s not fun, but there it is. 

Last:

Don’t always be slow 

Listen, there are times in life when we should be frantic. That we should be busy. And hell, probably even sometimes that we should be reactive to a situation. When that tiger comes, you better run your ass up a tree. 

The point of this isn’t for you to lean back in a chair and be lazy. OR even that you should mastermind every damn thing in your whole life. 

The point is to make sure that being an overly busy frantic asshole isn’t your default mode. 

If you’re frantic, and please take a minute to self-identify. 

Ask yourself:

  • Do I  prioritize my life effectively?
  • Do I work as efficiently as possible?
  • Do I have goals, plans, and strategies for my high-value purposes? 

If you say yes to all that, and you’re still frantic, well, maybe you should be, or maybe you should just find a less stressful occupation.

Best of luck!

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It\'s cliche to talk about how busy we are, but are we really? In this post, I suggest that maybe people are just frantic, and what we can do about it. Click to read more!