Last Sunday there was an article in the NYtimes called The 'Busy' Trap where the author Tim Kreider speaks about excessive busyness in modern American life.
He makes some great points:
- Our busyness if often self-imposed.
- Busyness makes us feel important.
- The "endless frenetic hustle" is not a necessary condition of life. It’s something we’ve chosen.
- It's possible to choose differently and create time for idleness and play.
If I may, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on non-busyess. What are my qualifications?
- I really don't like to be too busy or rushed and I've designed my life to minimize hectic-ness.
- I work for a South African doctor who shakes his head at overbooked and overworked Westerners. He runs a succesful practice, sees patients 4 days a week, and takes plenty of vacation.
- I live with an Indian who rolls his eyes at Westerners running around willy-nilly. He has a corporate career, takes lots of vacation, writes novels and I've never seen him stressed out about being too busy.
Here's how I've learned to minimize busyness in my life:
1. Set priorities.
I have identified the top 5 priorities in my life. They are written at the top of my "to do" list. I focus on doing things that support those 5 main priorities. The priorities can certainly change over time, but this gives my life focus. I can say no to extraneous stuff.
So if I'm feeling stressed, I can look at my daily activities and clearly see that TV and internet surfing don't fit, and cut down on those activities. (I used resources at PassionTest.com to help identify these top 5 priorities about 2 years ago and it's helped me ever since).
2. Say no to things.
It's ok to say no to invitations. I used to feel that the only valid reason to decline an invitation was if you had conflicting plans. That's not true. I'm aware of how much time and energy an activity will consume, and I factor that into my decision. I sometimes make ambitious plans and then scale them back, realizing that doing a bit less will make me more happy.
3. Socialize on weekends.
I used to meet up with friends on weeknights all the time. Now I do that less. I like my weeknight routine of exercising, dinner, relax, meditate, read, sleep. There is enough time to see friends on the weekend, and it makes my life flow more smoothly. Sure, I make exceptions, but this works as a rule of thumb.
4. Don't work backwards.
You know when you have plans for 7pm on a Saturday night, and you end up "working backwards" the whole day? As in, "I have to go running by 4, shower by 5, and leave by 6 to get there on time." Yes, I know this is a normal part of life, but I try to give myself a day off from it every week or so. Don't make set plans, let the day flow with more spontenaity, get a break from working backwards.
5. Subway-free Sundays
In NYC, I'm on the subway all the time. I like to practice "Subway-Free Sundays" as much as possible. It's just good to get a break. This was a bigger deal when I lived in Brooklyn and had longer subway rides - I would make it a point to stay in Brooklyn on Sundays.
6. Shop Less
I don't go clothes shopping all the time, because I find it draining and it gets me in a cycle of buying and returning. I don't buy lots of clothes, and when I do, I keep it to more of a quarterly event, rather than an everyday affair. I also embrace online shopping for items like pet food and books - that saves a lot of running around and frees up time and energy for more fun and time with friends.
And that's how I free up time for idleness and play! Please share your secrets with us in the comments.