“Busy” seems to be an entirely acceptable answer today to the standard question, “How are you?” But busy is only a state we put ourselves in. A frenzy. Busy is the whirlwind of places to go, things to do, people to please and its power over you makes you a slave to the busy god. As if busy was something to aspire to be or a status to achieve. Is busy somehow an indicator of success and not being busy failure? Nope. As a past subscriber to Busy, Inc., I know it well. And now I’m here to share with you the value of becoming “unbusy.” As I write this blog on my beloved front porch, I revel in my unbusyness. I know it won’t last forever, but for now, it is the time I need to recover and recharge for the next big thing.
Last summer I made the decision to move on from a job that kept me very busy indeed. Add in volunteer work, family life, friends, home and health challenges and that word – THAT word, “busy” was a joke among my family members about me. “Mom can’t do that because she is too busy.” Busy became an excuse and a source of contention. In becoming unbusy, I realized that busy should not be something to be achieved, but rather relieved. In part due to the timing of a career shift and also because family matters needed to be attended to, I made the conscious choice to leave busy behind and focus on new priorities.
The timing of a former student reaching out to me around the holidays was not coincidental. In fact, that same person mailed me the book, “Essentialism” that put my feet upon the path of becoming unbusy and gaining focus. It was my unbusy primer. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – shares that “success brings new problems – the undisciplined pursuit of more. The anecdote of that problem is the disciplined pursuit of less, but better.” So what gives? Sometimes all we need is a nudge.
The book “Essentialism” was my nudge delivered at just the right time. I created space to think and to see the bigger picture of my life and how my talents could be shared in my next chapter. Essentialism also teaches the art of saying a slow yes and a quick no. Too often we say yes without really thinking through if what we are taking on distracts us from what we should be doing or is a step that moves us closer to our intended goal. Focus on the few things. Say no when other people say yes and follow the disciplined pursuit of the essential. The idea of saying “no” does take practice. It means whittling away commitments to the core few. It means looking more deeply into yourself to start imagining a future path that focuses on leveraging your strengths and values.
Remember, you are the author of your own life and in becoming unbusy, you take control of the most valuable asset you have – your time.
Becoming unbusy was, and still is challenging for someone who thrives on being busy. But it is amazing how much of your day can be filled with meaning when your purpose is self-prescribed. Life is full of unexpected potential when you can spontaneously say, “yes” to coffee or lunch with a friend. Or when you can make dinner for neighbors on a weekday, babysit your grandchild and run errands at 2 pm on a Tuesday. Yes, the busy life would have crammed all that into one jam-packed weekend in between mowing the law and doing laundry.
Becoming unbusy is truly transformational. It allowed me to binge watch season 1 of Marie Kondo during the polar vortex and in turn to reorganize our entire house. Yes, our entire house and it took me some three months, concluding with a garage sale, trip to Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul and family artifacts distributed. The feeling of lightening the load just adds to the gifts that becoming unbusy bestow. Some have asked me if I’m retired. No, I am not retired, just taking a life sabbatical, a gap year or a pause. This time of unbusyiness is a gift supported by my loving husband who has patiently helped me navigate the waters of work and family life for over three decades. Thank you Steve.
I wish for everyone the time you need to pause, to learn the art of the quick no and the slow yes and to welcome the opportunity to become unbusy. Even if it’s an hour a day, a day a month or focused time away, revel in just being present with your thoughts. Put away your technology, shut off the TV and turn inwards instead. Spend time with no agenda, write down your dreams, start a journal and be guided by your ideas. Becoming unbusy allows dreams that have been buried, latent for years or decades, to resurface and be revisited. You are worth the investment and will find your better self once you allow vulnerability and boredom to make an appearance.
Remember, you are the author of your own life and in becoming unbusy, you take control of the most valuable asset you have – your time. As for me, it’s time to read and write more, for personal inquiry, for family and friends and to dream about what’s next. I hope to see you on the road to unbusy soon and if you get there, ring me up for coffee or stop by for a chat on the front porch. The invitation has been extended, how will you respond?