How to be less busy and more fulfilled

As you read these words, is part of you wondering if you’ve got time to read them? Are you calculating whether this counts as being productive? Perhaps you’ll be more productive in the future as result of reading it?!

The hallmark of the modern era is feeling like you’re busy from the moment you open your eyes to the moment you fall asleep. Some people I know even send emails when they wake up during the night.

Everyone’s in a rush, multi-tasking, with more things on their to-do list than they’ve got time for.

A lot of people I know would have a nervous breakdown, only they haven’t got time.

The cost of busyness

When I’m in this busy state of mind, I feel stressed, I don’t notice the world around me, how I’m feeling and not very interested in other people. It’s not a fun way to live.

Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings put it elegantly,

“Productivity is the surest way to lull ourselves into a trance of passivity, where we show up for our lives, but our absent from them.”

But maybe it’s worth it. Maybe all this busyness is helping us get a lot more useful things done? Apparently not.

I was shocked when I heard that research from the Centre for Time Use Research at Oxford University shows that, compared to 50 years ago, women are doing less unpaid work and a lot more paid work. Men are doing more unpaid work and a bit less paid work. The total amount of work, however, is about the same.

So why doesn’t it feel like that then?

Sleeping is now a productivity tool

One possible explanation that activities which once helped us rest and play, have become co-opted as productivity tools, and therefore add to the sense of busyness.

As this recent article Do yoga, work harder says, everything from sleep, Buddhism, happiness, LSD and even procrastination have been touted as a way to get more done. More and more things that we used to do for their inherent value, we now do instrumentally. That is to say, the only point is to get something done in order to meet some future goal.

Another factor is how every spare second can now we swallowed up by smart phone use, so that there is no time in which we are truly idle. You can now be productive int neh queue at the Post Office.

Our brain can’t tell the difference between using Facebook and doing work email so even your socialising can feel like work.

I definitely have the feeling sometimes when going through messages from friends that, as I’m responding, I’m not taking pleasure in the connection, I’m just trying to tick off “reply to messages” from my mental to do list. How sad that even our friendships can become just another thing we feel we have to do.

What’s driving the busyness?

It’s funny that, although people complain about being busy, it’s also a status symbol. It implies that you’re in demand. People need you.

It didn’t used to be like this. Late Nineteenth Century American economist Thorstein Veblen once said that “Leisure is now the badge of honour.” This was at a time when the wealthiest people didn’t have to work for their money, because they inherited it.

These days, the status symbol has reversed. People think being busy shows how in demand and therefore important you are. Busy people are seen as successful people.

Not only do people hope to prove their own worth to others through their busyness, but they also try to use it to try to express their love for their families, with perverse effects.

For example, some of my clients, work very long hours to provide for their families. As a result, they never have any time, attention or energy for them. This has a hugely detrimental impact on their relationships.

What can you do about it?

The thing that has most contributed to me feeling like I’ve got more time and that I focus on the things that are truly important is practising mindfulness. The reason being is that it is a practice of paying attention to and appreciating the here and now, noticing when the mind is jumping ahead to the next thing and bringing it back.

A simple thing you can try is next time you eat something, don’t do anything else at the same time. Really pay attention to the smell, what it looks like, the feel of it in your hands. Notice the process of chewing, swallowing and cleaning up the remnants with your tongue. Notice how often in that process you’re tempted to think about doing something else, and keep bringing your attention back again.

They say that the way you do one thing, is the way you do everything, so if you can slow down and enjoy eating, it will have a knock on effect.

Finally, if you ask yourself which parts of your life you truly enjoy and which feel like a chore and add to the busyness, what would the answer be?

My work is all about love. Loving yourself, loving other people and loving the earth. I do that through writing, podcasting, coaching, running workshops.