How often do you find yourself swamped by deadlines or tied down to an ever-growing To-Do list? Do you ever catch yourself declining a Zoom party or skipping out on episodes of your current series to get ahead on the chores?

If you’ve answered yes, then chances are you like to keep busy — and can we hardly blame you? For a while now, capitalism has ingrained it in us that being productive equates to success and happiness. Failure to do so, and we can feel guilty, lazy and unaccomplished for not ‘seizing the day’. 

And with a second lockdown well underway, we may especially feel the pressure to be productive at home. Whether that’s to learn a new language or organise your entire wardrobe, outside influences instruct many of us to keep busy to the point where it almost feels like second nature. 

But is this truly beneficial for us? By filling up our schedules with tasks and projects, we may inadvertently be neglecting the more important things that deserve our attention. Food for thought? Stick around, and let’s unpack this together. 

It’s The Easy Option

So, adding to and ticking off your To-Do list may feel like a challenge, but in fact, it’s the easy option. According to Business Psychologist, Tony Crabbe, being busy is a choice — not a commitment. 

‘It’s easier to simply react; to choose to try and do everything, rather than make the difficult decisions and unchoose things’, he writes in Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much. 

So, when our schedules are full to the brim, we don’t have to make tough choices. Instead, we blissfully hop from housework to work projects because it serves as a means of reassurance; being busy makes us feel important. 

During the lockdown period, this way of thinking can be damaging — especially since the UK’s unemployment rate sat at 4.8% in September, and redundancies are at an all-time high. And with ‘Productivity Guilt’ being a real thing, it can be easy to fall into the trap and feel invalidated by the amount of free-time we now have.

Busy Vs FUll

Instead, we may double-down on household chores or try our hand at DIY to fill the spot. While this may give us that boost of validation, it can still drain us of our energy and make us lose sight of what can enrich us.

So, let’s not confuse ‘busy’ with ‘full’. To be busy, we may pile mundane tasks on our plates to fill our appetites. But to be fulfilled, well — that’s entirely different. Pencilling in a couple of hours to catch up with family and friends, listening to music or simply taking a rest are all activities that can inject meaning into our lives. 

Making space for these seemingly ‘unproductive’ tasks can serve a greater purpose. They boost morale, improve stress-related conditions and leave us feeling rejuvenated — which will, in turn, improve our self-esteem and how we approach other responsibilities. 

The key here is balance. Mundane tasks, no matter how big or small, will always show up in our daily routines. But it’s essential to free up time to relax and recharge — it’s this that can replicate the validation that busyness gives us, but in a healthier way.

It’s Avoidance

All those things we keep meaning to do — the things that can make a real difference to our lives — are challenging to start. So, another reason why we may feel like we’re always so busy is that busyness is avoidance. 

According to Marriage and Family Therapist, Claudio Zanet, our busy schedules are an integral part of our defence structure. ‘It’s a tool which protects (ourselves) from difficult feelings, and has provided (us) tremendous value throughout (our) lives’, he says. 

But this value can be costly. In keeping so busy, we could be self-medicating our loneliness. When we do have some free time, we could decide to organise the sock drawer to distract ourselves from underlying anxiety. Hell, we might even do a deep clean of the house to quiet the emotional tensions that run through it.

While this coping mechanism may temporarily work in our favour, it has run its course when we start to feel burnt out, anxious and irritable. To quell our fears of feeling overwhelming emotions, we’ll need to confront them head-on — and to do this; we’ll need to carve out time in our schedules.

Confronting our emotions

In this lockdown period, we’re all living in each other’s pockets. This can undoubtedly create or worsen tension, so dealing with our emotions has never been more critical. 

So, whether it be happiness or anger, tuning into our emotions can teach us a lot. They highlight areas of ourselves that need paying attention, as well as enriching our relationships with others. 

We can do this by talking to a supportive person we trust, incorporating a daily journaling practice into our routines or by meditating. This way, we’re processing our emotions through healthy and productive tasks, as opposed to ones that encourage suppression.

Busy into Balance

We, humans, are finite beings. We only have so much energy, capabilities and hours in the day to do what we need to do. But by taking on too much in the name of time-management, validation or avoidance, we lose touch on what’s most important.

In psychological research, busyness and feeling rushed lead to reduced levels of compassion. In a time where having a support network is paramount, a ‘busy schedule’ can be nothing short of unproductive; it can be harmful, not just to ourselves but to those we care about too.

That’s not to say we should ignore all the responsibilities that take up our time. But instead, we should strive for a happy medium between busy and balance. Doing this can do wonders for our wellbeing, make us more appreciative of the things around us and soothe that inner turmoil that a busyness temporarily relieves.

So, why do we always feel too busy? Well, next time you catch yourself in the mirror, the answer will be staring right back at you.

Time for another? Head to Thoughtful for more interesting articles.

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