We've all said or heard it. When someone asks how we're doing the default response is often: "Flat out" or "Busy, so busy" or "Work just doesn't seem to end!"
Busy has become the new normal. We're "always on". Technology and social media make it easier than ever to compare the way we work, how much we work and how we choose to spend our free time with everyone else online. We're constantly connected, every refresh of our Instagram and Facebook feed lets us consume carefully selected depictions of how friends, family, co-workers and people we don't even know chose to show the internet how they keep themselves "busy" by overworking and over-committing. These declarations about how we barely have time to scratch ourselves have turned into humblebrags disguised as complaints. Mentions of busyness translate to being valuable at work and wanted by friends.
Amidst the flurry of December's social activities and festive gatherings, we had another chance to declare how we're voluntarily burning ourselves out and not stopping for a breather. The lack of free -- or "me" -- time is worn as a badge of honour. It's becoming a symbol of being wanted, reassuring us we're desired by friends and our work is valued and thus meaningful. But between long hours in and out of the office, rushing from one social commitment to the next, we're barely giving ourselves time to slow down and breathe.
With this scarcity of leisure time comes the risk of losing sight of what makes us happy and fulfilled. Many of our "ah-ha!" moments come to us when we let our brains rest and turn away from the hustle of daily life, even if just for a short period. Turning off our phones in the evening or saying no to a social commitment you're not really that keen on is all it takes to slow down the day-to-day blur of activities and let ourselves sit back, relax and reset.
In his New York Times essay on 'The Busy Trap', Tim Kreider warns the lure of busyness acts as "a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness". He reinforced the idea that if we constantly keep our schedules packed and our minds occupied, we cannot possibly fall into thinking our lives are meaningless, trivial or god forbid, silly. We're burning out because of our own drive and the anxiety of what we will face in the absence of busyness.
I'll be the first to admit, scheduling regular "me time" during which I am able to switch off from social media, work and people around me is daunting. The prospect of being alone and taking a much-needed break is scary, until I look at it head on.
I am not busy, the urgent tasks on my to-do list aren't important and most of the important tasks aren't urgent. I work 10-hour days upwards of five days a week in a job I'm lucky enough to not have to bring home with me. I exhaust myself by trying to milk every minute of my free time by spending it with friends or doing things I "think" I should be doing, like going to the gym when all I really want to do is sleep.
As any member of generation Y can attest, it's hard to mute the internal voice, nagging that by choosing to stay in you're missing out on something amazing -- maybe it's less fondly known as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). But as we're settling into the new year, rejuvenated from the holiday break, save a thought for how slowing down and freeing yourself from obligations can benefit your mental health.
Idleness doesn't translate to laziness. Nor does it mean that spending an afternoon away from the computer or your phone will undo your hard work or diminish relationships. Save a thought for slowing down this new year and set aside time to slow down the whirlwind inside your head. For me, that means spending less time on my phone and more time outside.
There are 168 hours in a week. Think about what makes you happy and try to do more of it. So give it a go, slow down, breathe and check in with yourself. And when someone asks you how you're doing, maybe the default response won't be "busy".