On Fighting Busyness

On the phone the other day I found myself answering the question “how are you?” with, now customary, “I’m alright but I’m just so busy, I have so much to do all the time”. I am always busy. I don’t stop. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I didn’t have something to be working on. In fact, I started this blog in part because I worried I might not have enough to do.

Being busy, and complaining about being busy, seems to be a central element of the modern condition. In a day and age where we all have to be actively getting better all of the time, to be hustling to get ahead, being busy is a badge of honour.

We’re all meant to not only be working hard, and partying (reading brunching) hard, we’re also meant to devote time to meditation, to fitness, to social causes, to being well read, to making health foods, to watching every new Netflix show, to looking good, to being the perfect young professional who simultaneously stays on top of all of those things whilst appearing not to care too hard about any of them. We all realise that aim is completely paradoxical in nature and impossible to achieve, but it doesn’t stop us working, from trying to get a little bit closer.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I think it’s human nature to want to be better, to improve.

I’m also not saying there’s anything wrong with the fact that we’ve become a generation of side hustlers. It seems like everyone has a side gig right now. In London, part of that need for a side gig is financial. But in part, we’ve become side hustlers because we were told we could do anything when we were growing up and we believed it, and even though we might now know it isn’t wholly true and that some of us really do need to do those office jobs we swore weren’t for us, we still want to believe a little bit. So we keep that dream alive by creating a side hustle that gives us hope that we might one day get there, that however unlikely we might just make our pipe dreams a reality. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there’s a whole lot right with that. If you want something, I really do believe you should work for it.

But the other side to working for our side dreams, for working on our quest to reach the lofty standards society has set, is that we’re working to keep ourselves busy. I realised when I was on that phone call that being “just so busy” had become my identity. I realised that I hadn’t stopped, I hadn’t allowed myself to stop because I’m scared of what happens when I do. Who am I if I’m not working on the glimmer of a hope that I might get to be a designer? Who am I if I’m not constantly doing something? I’m still scared to stop. I’m not sure I want to know what the answer is.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I don’t think I’m the only one out there who’s keeping busy because they’re afraid to stop.

Normally in these posts, I try to share something to help fight the negative feeling I’ve described, to help me, well us, feel a little better. Doing that here would, first of all, feel a little ironic; setting a worksheet to help stop work just doesn’t seem right. But I also don’t know what to do about it other than stop, and right now I’m not sure that I can. I mean I physically can, no one dies if I stop blogging, if I take a week off meal prepping, off trying so hard. But I don’t know if I can bring myself to do it. So, this time all I’ve put together is this image, which you can print or use as a desktop as a reminder, just as I am, that you can and should take a break, that you don’t have to be so busy.

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14 Comments

  1. Amelie
    March 19, 2017 / 5:53 pm

    What’s weird for me is that I love stress, mostly because I love the consequential thrill that comes afterwards of having accomplished something/having been productive. Without stress, I always look back and think about how much time I’ve wasted, but on the other hand, I don’t think it’s a healthy way to define myself. I loved this post!

    AVOCADO THEORY

    • Natalie
      March 19, 2017 / 10:45 pm

      I get this so much, I love having a huge to-do list crossed off at the end of the day, which is great (100% nothing wrong with being productive) but it’s then so hard to enjoy days when you only do 2 fun/for leisure things because you don’t get that same sense of achievement. I’m sure there has to be a way of changing the way we think about it though!

  2. March 19, 2017 / 10:01 pm

    I definitely resonate with this feeling. Especially now that I’ve started blogging and have to make time for everything that goes into that (which I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about), I honestly feel like I never have enough time – and then I feel guilty for feeling that.

    Most of my friends are at uni or travelling the world, and I feel like I’m just getting by – even though I’m working and blogging – so who am I to say I’m always busy? But I am; I’m always busy trying to better myself, learn more and figure out what I want to be in this world. I just wish I possessed the ability to sit back and rest once in a while!

    • Natalie
      March 19, 2017 / 10:47 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing this Indya. I feel like we’re on exactly the same page, blogging has monopolised so much of my time, in part because I love it so much. I love doing stuff and being productive but as you said it would be so nice to sit back and rest once in a while without thinking about the 10 other things I could be doing!

  3. March 20, 2017 / 8:17 am

    Damn precious words Natalie. It’s so easy to get trapped in all these to do’s lists, it also gives you a warm feeling of accomplishment that I think is the one that keeps you (us) on working like mad. My trick? Surruound myself with people that are exactly the opposite: both parts will learn from each other and you’ll eventually find the balance. I hope.

    Best,
    Chiara @ http://www.one-o.it

    • Natalie
      March 20, 2017 / 9:54 am

      It sounds like you’ve found a really good balance, Chiara. I think you’re right that surrounding yourself with people who see the whole to do list thing differently makes a huge difference

  4. March 20, 2017 / 3:31 pm

    I feel the same, I love being busy because it keeps me occupied. I’m almost scared not to have anything to do! x

    |Georgia Megan|

    • Natalie
      March 20, 2017 / 6:22 pm

      Yes Georgia! That’s exactly what I was going for, I wish not doing anything wasn’t so scary

  5. March 20, 2017 / 9:16 pm

    I can totally relate to this – I always feel busy and overwhelmed, especially since like you said, we are kind of expected to have a career, have a bunch of hobbies, take care of our health, etc. all at the same time. My main problem is, that even though I have so many things to do all the time, I don’t necessarily feel accomplished, which makes me feel quite stressed and upset. I keep thinking that it might have something to do with the fact that I’m still quite young and don’t necessarily have the experience to succeed in everything I’m doing, so I’m only hoping that one day I’m going to feel better and like I’ve actually achieved something. I guess especially since there are so many possibilities and opportunities nowadays, trying to find yourself is a never ending journey. Maybe taking a break is actually something we have to do, so we can sit back and reflect on everything we’ve been doing lately with a fresher eye 😀

    https://pineapple-jam.com

    • Natalie
      March 21, 2017 / 10:21 am

      The feeling of being busy and not having achieved anything isn’t exclusive to being young, I don’t think. But that doesn’t mean it won’t go away. You have to learn to recognise the stuff you are achieving whether that’s learning and acquiring a new skill, or making something, even if it’s not the huge goal you might have for yourself. You’re right that taking a break and a moment to reflect is such a big part of the process, and something that’s far too easily forgotten.

  6. March 21, 2017 / 11:54 pm

    I didn’t really think of it like this, mainly because I have a whole lot of side things and my friends don’t, but it is true.
    I like my side things though because although they sometimes cause me extra stress it does mean I’m never bored which is something I know a lot of my friends suffer from. I’m gunna keep being busy and not complain about it but embrace it, being busy for me is a sign of being mentally healthy in a lot of ways but I definitely need to switch off sometimes!
    Love the post as usual

    The Quirky Queer

    • Natalie
      March 22, 2017 / 12:03 am

      That’s such a great way to see it Izzy. It’s worth remembering the upsides too, you’re right I’m never bored, I’ve learned so many things, and I’ve made so much! I guess a big part of it is perspective

  7. March 22, 2017 / 1:40 am

    Yes to all of this.

    I actually had to quit everything back in October because it brought me to a really bad place mentally. I stopped working, I didn’t blog (well, that I had actually quit the year before in hopes that carving some busyness out of that area in my life would fix the others, but it didn’t), I didn’t exercise, I didn’t do anything. And as much as people say “Wow, I wish I could just stay home all day”, it really does take a toll on you because not being busy can feel so wrong. You feel like you’re not moving toward your goals, that your inability to do little things proves you’re incapable of doing the big things, that nothing is possible. It’s just horrible.

    I’m finally at a point where I’m starting to do all the things again, but in small baby steps with careful consideration towards balance. I think setting realistic expectations is so important and taking the time to reflect on what you’re doing and how it’s affecting your health is so necessary. Yes, we want to achieve all the things but gosh, at what cost?

    Hopefully you’re busyness isn’t killing you like mine was! (And if it is, I hope you find a way to give yourself a little break soon. <3)

    • Natalie
      March 22, 2017 / 10:34 am

      I’m so glad to hear you’re starting to find a balance now, I’m sorry it got so bad for you before. I think you’re right that perspective and being kind to yourself with your expectations is so crucial, and I’m starting to learn more and more that taking time to reflect is such a powerful thing (as long as you take action on what ever you decide needs to change).

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