We live in a culture besotted with doing. We are devoted to breathless, full-tilt busy-ness. If we meditate, we justify it by pointing out how much more
productive our practice makes us: it’s okay if we sit still for ten minutes in the morning, because it helps us get more done. At work, we fall right in line with our coworkers who indulge in bemoaning just how much we’ve got going on, how little we’ve slept, how many hours we’re putting in.
“I’ve been working crazy hours,” we’ll say to explain our frazzled state, and the response is certain to be sympathetic, until our listener one-up’s us with a remark about her own mountainous workload. We commiserate for a nanosecond before we plunge back into the maelstrom, our never-to-be-sated egos driving us like overseers goading pack mules.
Meanwhile much of our day — I could quote statistics on this, but do you really need me to? — is taken up by receiving and managing the tsunami of emails and tweets and texts and newsfeed blurbs, activities that keeps us frenetically occupied and shred our attention. Eventually, little of what we are doing amounts to actual work: the creation or development of an object, product, service, or human interaction that has intrinsic value.
It is so easy to fall into this trap. We can find lots of support and encouragement for being crazy busy. We are regaled with coaching and bromides and memes that promote the ideals of reaching higher, surpassing our goals, doing more. We regard with a mixture of admiration and despair those Highly Effective People who run business empires while simultaneously traveling the world, appearing on talk shows, and saving humanity. But, hey, the thinking goes: they’ve got the same twenty four hours in a day that I do, and maybe if I can just figure out how to fit more into my day I can aspire to their level of achievement.
The problem, as with all addictions, is that no matter how much you do, it’s never enough. The fleeting endorphin rush you get from knocking out every item on a crowded To Do list leaves you jangled and depleted even while it sets you up for doing yet more. And your boss, your organization, and your culture will be happy to cooperate, happy to hook you up.
We each have our unique energy levels. Some of us aren’t happy unless we’re going like a bat out of hell. But many of us feel both constantly pushed and deeply unsatisfied. We get to the end of another day and wonder where it went. We can’t even remember what it is we were doing, we just know we didn’t stop all day long. And here we are, one day closer to the finish line.
I speak as one who has fallen into error in this regard more times than I can count. When confronted with a stressor like a big project or an uncomfortable change, my default is to go into action like a ferret on crack. I have to remind myself over and over that unless I need to evacuate my house in the face of an onrushing wild fire (an actual possibility here in drought-stricken California), I’ll do much better if I take a breath and slow down. If I allow myself to become insanely busy, it follows that I allow myself to become insane.
Along with a considered, deliberate approach to the task/project/enterprise/life at hand, we all need an end of the day at the end of the day. At some point, whatever we’ve done needs to be enough, and whatever didn’t get done will wait. Let the problems of the day be sufficient unto the day, and all that. It’s Miller Time.
Otherwise we’re living in emergency mode all of the time, and I promise you there are boatloads of studies that show that kind of unrelenting stress is bad for us. Even deadly.
So, sure, aim high and set worthy challenges for yourself. Go for your big dreams. Just remember that you’re a human being, not a human doing.
How about you? If you sometimes struggle with “busy-ness” or if you’ve found some helpful techniques that get you out of the rat race and into a state of flow, please share by leaving a comment!