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Can't slow down: Our strange obsession with being busy, and how it's ruling our lives

Insights

In an ever-more frantic world, the virtues of “taking a spell” seem to have been lost in the rush, writes Shane Rodgers

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Do you get the impression that contemporary society has developed an unhealthy obsession with busyness? Sometimes it feels like we wear it as a badge of honour.

It is as if our social and professional kudos requires a celebration of how full our lives are, and our existence is not complete without committing to a frenetic life pace.

In our everyday encounters, conversations quickly turn to how busy we all are. Too much to do, so little time. Always running. Always due somewhere.
The trend is dangerous. Too often busyness is equated with stress, unhealthy habits, a feeling of failure and a foreboding sense that our lives are out of control. That is no way to live.

For my whole life, my father has been urging me to have more “spells”. This term was apparently in common use in the 1800s and refers to a period of rest. I have always aspired to this. And mostly failed. Spells don’t come easy.

There are a few ways to look at busyness. In some respects, it is a myth due to simple maths. There are only 24 hours in the day, and you are doing something for every one of those hours. You cannot possibly be busier than you were yesterday, last week or last year. Same hours to fill.

Another way to look at it relates to speed. We only have so many hours and our choices to fill them grow every year. We either need to be very good at prioritising, or we get caught in the trap of trying to do everything faster.

If you feel busy it inevitably means you are trying to do too much with your limited time, or you are lamenting the things you do not get to. This means that, in the world of 2022, one of the greatest skills we need to learn is quality allocation of our time.

Further to this, we need to be able to set our own priorities. The world is full of people trying to pickpocket your precious time with requests and interruptions. Somehow we need to filter out the static and restore a sense of control.

Then there are the issues of sleep and rest. As we try to jam more into our day, the easiest things to sacrifice in the short term are bunk time and downtime.

This comes at a cost.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians told a 2018 Parliamentary inquiry that between 33 and 45 per cent of Australian adults experienced inadequate sleep. That is a lot of tired individuals. No wonder so many people seem grumpy and “raged”.

The brilliant book Rest by Alex Soojung and Kim Pang comprehensively chronicles the importance of rest to our health and our ability to reach our full potential.

The book also outlines the case for quitting a task while you are still at full energy. Author Ernest Hemmingway was apparently a strong advocate of this. Rather than keep writing when he was on a roll, he would stop and let his subconscious continue to work. The next day he could return to the task fully energised and lose none of the previous day’s momentum.

Children’s author Roald Dahl would also leave something unfinished, so he never returned to work with a blank page.

We are not machines. We can only do our work successfully if we have the brain space and the physical energy to do it.

I find that it is important to allocate time to rest at the times when we are most busy. Putting rest time in your calendar is really empowering. It allows us to find some space and give your brain some free capacity to do things properly.

Once we truly recognise the gift of time and take control of how we use it, our lives suddenly feel more enriched and under control.

I wonder if any of us really spend enough time really thinking about how we want to spend our time. Perhaps we are too busy to do that.

Shane Rodgers is a business executive, writer, strategist and marketer with a deep interest in what makes people tick and the secret languages of the workplace.

 

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