I don’t know about you but it’s Christmas party season for me. This means lots of professional events and lots of fun and catch-ups, but it also tends to mean lots of conversations with people that I don’t know so well. And at each one of these events lately, the conversation seems to go like this.
“Hi, how are you?”, “I’m well thanks, how are you?”, “I’m really busy”.
“Hi, how are you?”, “I’m well thanks, have you been busy? I have!”
It might just be me, but it seems everyone in my professional sphere is focussed on this notion of being ‘busy’. And ‘busy’, in this context, seems to be something that we are meant to be proud of, and wearing with a big badge so all can see! You must be ‘busy’, otherwise there must be something wrong!
I was recently with a group of lawyers who were all asking each other about their varying states of ‘busyness’. It reminded me of the debate I have heard myself having as a parent with my husband about ‘tiredness’- you know that debate when you try and establish with your partner that in fact they should be the one getting out of bed at 3am to the crying child because you are clearly more tired than they could ever be!) (and I don’t think I am alone on this one either!)
So I was with these lawyers who were all ‘busy’ and when it came to me, as a bit of a social experiment, I answered by saying “No, I’m not busy actually” and I was then met with four quizzical faces staring at me- clearly something terrible was happening in my life because I wasn’t ‘busy’.
From the outside my life is the epitome of ‘busyness’ but to me that is not something that I want to promote or celebrate. Like almost everyone I know, I juggle parenting, family, work and occasionally some fun things. And I am not alone. Almost everyone I speak to, work with and know is doing exactly the same.
And so the thing is, when it comes down to it, I’m not particularly interested in how busy people are. I am far more interested in what they’re doing, what they’re working towards, how their family are and where they’re going for their next holiday. I am really interested in how they are feeling. That for me is a far more meaningful and interesting conversation.
So why are we suddenly celebrating busyness?
I read recently being busy is not actually something that we should be proud of. Busy in a professional sense is often associated with being burnt out, stressed and tired. In a personal sense, it can often be associated with far more significant personal difficulties and when it comes to managing children, busyness is definitely not something that makes for pleasant parenting!
I know that on the days when I’m trying to rush my daughter out of the house to achieve 6 or 7 different things, you can guarantee that we’ll be having an argument before we’ve even left the front door. Whereas on the days when we can go about our day without having to be anywhere at any specific time, still getting through things, it will happen calmly and even happily.
It’s time to get back in control- the art of saying ‘No’ (and ‘Yes’)
Earlier this year I described my life at times feeling like it was running ahead of me 100 metres down the road and I was constantly trying to catch up. This year, I’ve focussed heavily on trying to slow myself down and I did this by learning the art of saying “no”.
For me, this meant that instead of worrying about missing out on an opportunity or not being a part of something, I had to pause and really think about whether that thing, that opportunity, that meeting, that event, that invitation, was really going to make a difference to the things that actually matter most to me.
I still do an awful lot of stuff. Perhaps I am still ‘busy’ to an outsider, but I feel calmer and more in control, because I’m choosing where I want to invest my time and how I want to do it.
And so when someone asks me whether I’m busy, I look them in the eye and I say “No I’m not. I’m happy, I’m content, I’m having fun with my family and I’m even sleeping”.
A key in making this work, has also been to focus on being in the moment, enjoying everything for what it is at the time that I’m doing it. Now I’d like to say to you that I could do this every day, but I can’t. I am certainly am doing it a lot more than I was before. Just making that conscious decision to be mindful, to be in the moment, to be grateful and to appreciate the opportunities that I am saying yes to is making all the difference to how I feel each day.
So I don’t know about you, but the next time you go to a Christmas party, a social event or even just see a friend in the street, see if you can avoid asking whether they’re busy and perhaps ask them instead about their life, the problems they’re solving at the moment and how they and their family are. That is the stuff that really matters to most of us at the end of the day.