WORKPLACE: The merits of trading busy for something better

March 2, 2018

phelps maggieWe all have someone in our lives who never stops moving. She is constantly running to meetings and making plans, she grabs lunch on the road, regularly monitors her cell for messages, and her schedule books out weeks in advance. She’s on top of it and her time is in demand. You might ask her, “How are you?” and her response is, “I’m good, I’m busy!” and off she goes. You might wonder how she manages it all.

We see people like this in our lives and we admire them for their hard work, especially when the pace of life and technology is increasingly difficult to keep up with and we are forced to adjust quickly with it. So, we sprint through our days, running from meeting, to event, to practice, to dinner and back home to flip open our laptops and catch up before we start over again the next day.

We continually hear how busy we all are. And I’m a culprit, too! I jam-pack my calendar and say “yes” to most invitations, because being busy means we’re doing something. No one can say we’re not trying. No one can say we’re not working hard, because we’re constantly working.

I don’t know when working constantly became equivalent to working hard. I don’t know when we decided that being busy was something to be proud of and a word to use boastfully in everyday conversation. We use the word busy to describe how we are doing, we use it to measure our success at work, and we use it to describe our family lives.

We stuff our schedules with so many tasks and plans that, when a rare moment of calm happens, we’re itching with discomfort in the silence. We feel guilty every time we relax. And so, we over-schedule ourselves again. As such, we make ourselves worthier of admiration and simultaneously validate our own feelings of self-worth.

Operating in chaos is the norm for many of us, but how much of the chaos do we create for ourselves with the choices we make? We act every day through a series of prioritizations. Whether we prioritize thoughtfully or not, what they say is true: Saying yes to one thing is saying no to another. We have a choice in most situations, but it’s easier to blame the universe for not giving us time than it is to make the time ourselves.

In our haste to “do” we forget to “be.” We fall victim to time, rather than being the masters of it. We let life happen to us, instead of making intentional decisions.

Aeschylus said, “Happiness is a choice that requires effort.” No one said it would be easy. It’s not easy for us to become comfortable with downtime when relaxation is a sign of weakness. It’s not easy to change the expectation when we’ve been trained to see fault in inaction and idleness as a code word for laziness.

I’m thankful that people are beginning to challenge the norm, particularly young professionals. The next generation has thrown the business world into a frenzy trying to figure out these “millennials.” They’re called lazy and averse to hard work. Yet, I wonder: Are young people lazy, or have they just figured out how to work smarter, not harder?

Young professionals care more about the results they achieve than the amount of time put into their work. They also recognize the ability to choose their own paths. Now more than ever, with companies fighting for talent, many of us have the luxury of choice. Perhaps the new wave of talent presents an opportunity for us to question our definition of hard work and success, as we replace busy as our badge of honor with a badge of intention.

What might our future look like as we evolve out of our busy addiction? It might be that, in 10 years, we describe our lives as “full” instead of “busy.” It might be that, when someone asks, “How are you?” we respond thoughtfully. It might be that we begin now to break the mold.

This morning, I turned off the radio in my car and spent my 30-minute commute letting my mind wander. I ditched my morning podcast, my country radio, and I didn’t pick up my phone at red lights to scout out my day’s to-do list. I sat and thought aimlessly. You know, it’s funny; I never noticed the piece of art at the corner of Fairfield and Central avenues before.•


Phelps is leadership initiatives manager at United Way of Central Indiana.

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