The blight of busyness


When I ask people how they are, the most common response is “busy”. When I ask people to write down, anonymously, how they felt at the start of one of my mindfulness sessions, the most common responses are “stressed”, “anxious”, “tense”, “time-pressured”, or  “a lot on my mind”. Maybe this is actually what people mean when they say “busy”. (An hour later they tend to feel much better!)

When I feel like there’s a shadow hanging over my day, it’s usually when I’m feeling tense and anxious about not being able to fit everything in and therefore let someone down or come across as incompetent because I’m late, unprepared or I’ve missed the deadline. I’ve realised that most of the time this feeling is either entirely a construct of my mind (if I take a step back I realise I don’t actually have to get all these things done), or as a result of unnecessarily committing to too many appointments and too short a deadline.

When I feel like I’ve got enough time it changes my whole outlook on life. I’m more patient, kind, thoughtful, creative, relaxed and better at listening. I also take more pleasure and pride in my work, write friendlier emails and am more diligent.

For me, feeling time-pressure sucks the joy out of life. All I can think about is getting it done, so that I can get on to the next thing, rather than enjoying the process of doing it. I want to get the conversation over with, bash out email as quickly as possible, skip the flossing, walk faster, push past that person, don’t answer the phone to my mum until it’s over and I’ve got some breathing space. In short it makes me treat myself and others unkindly.

The monk Thomas Merton, writing fifty years ago, said that:

“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the greatest form, of its innate violence.”

If he could see the level of rush and pressure we live with now (he died in 1968), I’m sure he’d be appalled.

I put some of it down to the fact that people used to have a fixed level of correspondence and news each day. When you’d read all your letters and the newspaper, you’d didn’t get the next round until the following day. Now it’s impossible to be on top of everything: personal emails, work emails, facebook messages and newstream, twenty-four-hour news, the magazine you bought a few days ago and still haven’t read, the book you’re trying to read regularly… and so on. And we’re still learning how to manage this deluge.

I decided a while ago to drastically cut down how much news I consume and how much I check my emails and social media, from several times an hour to one or twice a day. I feel much better off and more productive for it. There are so many things I’d rather do than write emails: yoga, meditation, reading, going for a walk, talking to another human… are all much more life affirming.
Another thing I’m trying, although often forgetting to do, is to allow some time each day, even if it’s only five minutes, for doing nothing. Just sitting or lying down, not reading, not looking at my phone, and having a pause from everything. It feels good! It’s hard to do when you’re feeling busy, but that’s probably the most important time to do it.

If you feel like this is an issue for you, you may be interested in a Digital Detoxing group I’m helping to run. Our next meeting is on 23rd April, and we’ll be discussing how to deal with digital distractions.