I’ve fallen into a really poor habit. For the past however long, when anyone has asked me how I’m doing, or how it’s going, I’ve usually replied ‘Oh, you know, busy – really busy’ … the standard response to that is often ‘oh, that’s great – great in this economy’. Which usually leaves me grumbling that yes, it can be great – and I’d certainly rather be busy than unemployed – but what am I actually so busy on? What am I doing? Am I so busy I’m not able to relax, or hangout with my kids as much, or do jobs around the house, or whatever it is. You get trapped in a cycle of having to be busy to keep on top of projects, clients, and bills.
But also, what message does saying ‘I’m busy’ send? It’s a poor message. It makes it very hard for people to connect – it’s a non-conversation. It’ll lead nowhere and achieve nothing. Who cares? At best, the person you tell will smile politely, offer a little (and I mean tiny) bit of sympathy, and move on. At worst, I’m missing a great opportunity to explore something new.
Here’s what’s happening when I say I’m busy:
- I’m trying to convince myself, and others, that I matter. If I’m busy then I must be doing something important. Too important to really talk with you, thanks very much. I matter, dammit. I’m busy.
- I’m creating a wall around myself that will prevent you from asking me to do something. Gah – how rude is that? It’s such an easy out. ‘I’m busy – and have no time for whatever you’re concerned about thank you!’ But what if the person asking me has something genuinely interesting to tell me, a new opportunity I can take part in, a great idea they need to share? Too bad. I’m busy.
- I’m probably feeling a little guilty. I’ve filled my time with nonsense and now I don’t have time for the important stuff. There’s a ton of great stuff I could be doing – writing that book I started, starting a side project – but hell, there’s Facebook status updates to make, pictures of cats that need instagramming, So, I’m busy – but I’m not doing important stuff. I will now say ‘I’m busy’ because I know I should be doing more important stuff.
We’re (although it may just be me) filling our time with meaningless stuff, thinking that simply filling our time will make us content, rather than filling our time with meaning. And I need to stop. Why do I do this? I don’t know – it could be fear, or it could just be laziness; it’s easy to fill our time and neglect to notice what we’re filling it with.
If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won’t have the time. For there’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing … The Terrible Trivium, from The Phantom Tollbooth.
So, from here on out – and I’m going to consider this my mid-year’s resolution – I’m going to reframe my answer to the ‘how are you / how’s work?’ question. I try to be busy – and it’s okay if I’m actually doing something worthwhile – but I want to put it more positively, in a way that will keep open the possibilities contained in the question.
And in terms of what is keeping me busy, it’ll be stuff that matters. Things that I choose to spend my time on – because time is a choice we all have – rather than the whims of an app on my phone.
And definitely not this: