busyholism

Are You a Busyholic?

I’m glad you decided to read this article! Especially if you, like many of us, feel you’re “too busy” at the moment, and will give some thought to reading it when you have more time! Congrats on taking some time to do it now because after we shed light on what busyholism truly is, I’ll provide you with some effective strategies to create a small opening for you to let in the sweet sunshine of delight as well as relief. 

Busyholism is a word I use to describe the need to keep busy at all times. It’s a particularly joyless way to live, often causing us to sense that we’re a victim of circumstances. Often, we feel compelled to fill every waking hour with an item on our to-do lists. When we’re swamped like this, our mantra becomes: “Just get me through this.” Ultimately, we find that the satisfaction in doing things is either fleeting or nonexistent.

I’m going to give you examples taken from my work over the years with coaching clients. Their names and certain identifying features have been changed to protect their anonymity.

Take Sylvia, for example:

Sylvia: “I hate to admit it, but I’m relieved that my daughter Isabella’s wedding is finally over. Despite having hired professionals to manage the reception, I found myself too overwhelmed by worries and a personal to-do list to ensure everything proceeded without a hitch. I was determined to shield Isabella from any stress on her big day, convincing myself that my involvement was necessary. The caterer managed my anxieties well, used to dealing with over involved mothers. But by the end of the day, I was utterly drained. Exhausted! I was filled with regret over being so ”busy” that I missed witnessing the joy and celebration of Isabella and her husband, Alex, by our guests. Can you imagine being in the middle of preparing for your daughter’s wedding and not being able to hardly wait until it was over?”

Sylvia wasn’t talking about the wedding itself being over. She was talking about her behavior. Busyholism keeps us in a perpetual state of, well, busy-ness. Life becomes a never-ending list of tasks. We’re sleep-deprived, exhausted, and busier than ever. And in this constant whirlwind, our dreams can seem far away.

Sogyal Rinpoche, the author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, identified two kinds of laziness. He described the first kind as typical in India, characterized by spending the day sitting around, drinking tea, and listening to soap operas on the radio or television. The second kind, he noted, is prevalent in America. It involves filling one’s life with so much activity that it resembles flies buzzing around on a hot summer day — lots of noise and movement, but with little clear direction. It consists, he says, of cramming our lives with compulsive activity so that there is no time at all to confront the real issues, such as “What am I doing with my life?”

Carl: “I want to confess something. My son is on his high school’s soccer team. I attended one of his team’s final games for the season. They were up against a rival team for first place. It was more important than ever for them to win, which they did. But here’s the truth: I spent most of the time on my phone, answering emails. I had a massive list of ‘to-do’s’ to get through. At least, that was what I told myself. Bottom line: I missed out on most of the fun because of being preoccupied with what I needed to do next. There was a brief moment when I looked up from my phone and saw my son’s expression as he scored a goal for his team. It saddened me to think of all of the other moments that I probably had missed.”

Busyholism is a form of driven behavior. Our behavior is driven when we fear something terrible will happen if we slow down or neglect the items on our “to-do” list. It is not logical, and it’s very uncomfortable to feel like we need to keep moving ahead without stopping to rest.

Alex: “I feel guilty when I’m resting or just taking it easy. On Sundays, I have a list of things I must do before I can play or rest. I rarely get to the play and rest part. It makes me feel resentful because I’m not doing the things I really want to do.”

The Solutions

If you can relate to one of the above stories, or if you have a busyholism story of your own, take heart. The first step in climbing out of the busyholism rut is telling the truth to yourself. Here are some solutions I’ve coached people to discover for themselves. They work. However, as my mentor, the Rev. Johnnie E. Colemon used to say, “It works if you work it.”

Get a hobby. Research shows that fewer people have hobbies now than they did 30 years ago. In The Harvard Crimson, October 5, 2023 Op-Eds, Katherine H. Lee writes that the decline in hobbies in favor of screen time is typical, especially in younger people. But, wherever I go,  I see people in their 40’s hunched over their phones, iPads, or laptops in coffee shops.

Here is the story of someone who took this to heart and made a change:

James: I run a marketing company, up at 5 am and rarely home before 6 pm. Then it’s dinner and back to work. My 10-year-old son feels we don’t spend enough time together. My coach suggested I find 15 minutes for painting, an old hobby. Skeptical, I tried it before dinner, setting up an easel in my garage. Those 15 minutes became a retreat from office stress. Soon, my son Alex joined me, and now it’s our daily ritual. What a shift in our relationship! Next week, we’re displaying our work at the local library’s Artists Day. Just fifteen minutes daily made this possible!”

Rest your body and mind.  The taboo, four-letter word for busyholics. Yet the peak performers who never failed to find time to rest included John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison, all of whom typically took naps every day, if only for twenty to thirty minutes.

Rest and play are not the same thing. We tend to get them confused.

Paul: I work hard, and I play hard. That’s my rest and relaxation. If I sit still too long, with nothing to do, I get antsy.” 

Rest means letting your body and mind slow down to become replenished. There is no such thing as resting hard. How might you build in time for rest each day? 

Imagine someone offers you $100,000 tax-free to rest for 20 minutes daily for a month, including weekends. If you skip a day, you lose the money. Think about what you could do with that money! Now suppose, after earning the cash, you continue this daily rest. You’ve developed a habit in 30 days, as studies suggest. Despite your busy life, you managed it and you feel fantastic.

Now, consider this: isn’t the health of your brain and body, potentially extending your life by a decade in good health, worth more than $100,000?

Practice gratitude. Each day for the next 30 days, practice gratitude. To make this easy, click on the link here and listen to Brother David Steindl-Rast reflect on  A Grateful Day.

You’ll get more value from this if you keep a notebook by the side of your bed so you can list three things for which you are grateful after you’ve listened to Brother David.

At the end of 30 days, look over what you have written. You’ll have a tangible map of everything you find meaningful for your life. Next, ask yourself:

  • What might I be enjoying if I weren’t so busy?
  • Who would I spend time with, and what would we be doing?

Your life is in your hands! In the end, what do you want to be remembered for? How busy you were or how deeply you were loved?

I know which one you’d pick!  You do, too!

Until next time, a big hug,

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