One of the most common barriers today that prevent people from making time for what’s really important, a.k.a self-care, personal development, meaningful or joyful moments and those big introspective questions, is that everyone feels too busy to make time for it.
Think of the last time you bumped into a friend on the street and they asked how you were. Did you say something that included the word “busy”?
Have you ever paused to reflect on when you started using the word busy more in your vocabulary? Notice the tone of how this sounds. Overwhelmed. Anxious. exasperated. As I write this I’ll admit I’m cringing at having done this myself too many times to count.
Today’s world is changing faster than ever, and our minds may not have caught up with this rapid change yet. There are many challenges to face, things to do, constant notifications and an “always on” culture due to the internet being deeply entrenched in how we live. We’re constantly bombarded with information, constantly being distracted, our attention fragmented, our minds somewhere else.
You open your inbox. You start typing and email, then you get a text message. Then you forgot about that thing you need to do so you start doing it. Then you see a video add pop up on your screen. Then someone calls you. Then you get side tracked and end up watching a funny cat video. Then you realise you’d better get back to the avalanche of email, only to remember you have a meeting in 10 minutes so need to cram some food in your mouth at your desk and call an Uber, to then spend the uber ride on your phone multi-tasking between texts, Instagram and email. Not exactly an ideal picture of a mindful state of being…
Not to mention that as a society, we have gradually learned to equate being busy with being successful, worthwhile and productive, a badge of honour that we wear with pride, often without being conscious of it. It has become the status symbol of our time – I’m busy - therefore I’m in demand, I’m worthy, I’m successful. My skills and presence are valued. And if we’re not busy – what are we doing? We’re lazy slackers.
What we are referring to here is the feeling we know all too well but perhaps haven’t paused to think about or put a name to. It’s called the “busy disease”. That’s because, by living this way, we are never truly at ease – in fact in the place of where the potential of peace lies, there is an un feeling a sense of underlying dis-ease. We all know that feeling well, never fully being in the present, because our minds are filled with all the same stuff we fill our days with.
The problem is that living within this “busy” paradigm is destructive to our wellbeing. It robs us the ability to be fully present with the ones we love, to make time for ourselves, and lead an examined, intentional life. It’s not sustainable and leads to catastrophic problems both within our mind and body. Are we busy simply because we’re programmed to be busy and it’s all everyone else does? Are you busy doing the right things, or just a constant series of tasks that sap your soul? Are we making sure we’re so busy that we don’t have time to address the real, big, scary stuff in our lives that urgently needs to be addressed? By filling our days with “to-dos” we give away our power by being slaves to our tasks. It implies we don’t have a choice in the matter, when in fact we do.
It’s time to get real about this and face the cold hard facts. If we spend ourselves occupied hour to hour, day to day, stretching ourselves even though the little voice inside screams “NO!”, wishing for time to come up and breath, feeling exhausted and exasperated, are we ever truly living a meaningful life, or for that matter, living at all? Or are we on the path to burnout, illness and poor mental health? Why wait to end of our lives to have the haunting realisation that whilst we were busy caught in the busyness of it all, we missed out on what we’re really here to do – enjoy life, make a difference, connect, explore ourselves, and do all the things we keep putting off - because we’re too busy.
The myth of multitasking
We’ve all heard the saying that men can’t multitask. But according to neuroscientists, the truth is – literally none of us can. Neuroscience shows that although we all like to think of ourselves as multi-taskers because we associate that with being productive, all we’re really doing is switching back and forth between tasks very quickly, depleting our energy and concentration, and only dedicating half of our brain power to each task. As you can see, that’s not ideal, because we’re allocating only 50% of our brain power to what we’re doing and taking twice as long to do it, instead of giving 100% to one thing at a time, completing it more efficiently and at a higher quality.
(Disclaimer - the only situations where this doesn’t apply is when one of the two tasks you are doing is second nature, has been repeated so much it’s automatic or being run by your subconscious mind, like walking).
This practice of constantly starting and stopping each task repeatedly is known in psychology as "serial tasking," - NOT multitasking.
It’s like having an internal traffic light screaming at your brain every two seconds “RED!” “YELLOW!” “GREEN” “NOW IT’S RED AGAIN!” “NOW GREEN!” just like a car starting and stopping at traffic-lights-gone-wild, this lag time between tasks leads our brain to becoming pretty inefficient at what it’s doing and also pretty drained of energy. Productivity is slowed due to the constant switching between tasks to focus on, and in addition less information is retained affecting our learning and memory.
Multi-tasking can also make us “feel” busy even if we’re not. If we’ve got quite a bit on in our lives, it can make us feel even more scrambled and strapped for time, leading to that dreaded feeling of overwhelm. The conscious awareness of all of the tasks you are doing, all the tasks you need to do, all the tasks you forgot to do, and all the other thoughts swirling around the mind can certainly feel like we’re extremely busy, even on a day off. From this perspective, are you truly too busy to invest in your wellbeing, or is it a matter of cutting down the multi-tasking and instead being more present with each thing, one after the other?
The illusion of not having time
Another thing we can hear ourselves say is that we “don’t have time” to do this or that. As in fact everyone on the planet has the same number of hours in a day, what we really mean is that we have given priority to other things due to either necessity or choice.
Of course, not having available time to commit to something can be a legitimate challenge, but it’s really not a time issue, it’s probably more of a priority issue.
When we say we don’t have time to take care of ourselves, take time out to meditate or get centred, to do the things that light us up and make us smile, to spend time with friends and family, to exercise, to eat quality food to take care of our health - what we really mean is that all the other stuff we’re busy doing is taking priority over that. There’s a choice that has been made, and our self-care isn’t it.
I challenge you to put yourself first for your health, and for those around you. By prioritizing your own needs, you in turn can transform your overall experience by being healthier, more resilient, getting to enjoy your life more, and instead of being depleted and stressed, have a fuller cup from which you give to those around you. Remember, you can’t keep giving from an empty cup, but if your cup is overflowing, you’ll be able to give so much more to everything you do.
The truth is that once we view something as a priority, we make time for it. If we view our health as a top priority, and agreed that there’s nothing more important than it, then things will have a way of making themselves happen. At the end of the day, if our mental and/or physical wellbeing isn’t intact, it negatively impacts every aspect of our lives. It’s much more logical to build healthy, sustainable habits now than to wait until burnout or a crisis point.
If you catch yourself thinking or saying you don’t have time to do something you know you need to do for your mental or physical health, or that is truly important and brings meaning to your life, remind yourself that once you commit, you always find a way.
The time paradox
Today’s modern busy lifestyle means we tend to feel time-poor and end up putting things we do for ourselves last. But what if we told you that you actually gained time back from giving time to practices like these? It’s ironic, we know, and seems not to make sense. But think about it like this – the time you spent checking in with and grounding yourself once a day will give you more clarity, make you feel more relaxed, and allow you to be more efficient and effective with your time, ironically saving you more time in this way.
Recall the last time you tried to make an important decision, get perspective or do some creative thinking when you were feeling rushed, stressed and like your thoughts were all over the place or destructive.
When we take time to check in with ourselves and practice things regularly that uplift, ground and centre us, we’re in a much better position to think more clearly and positively, make better judgements and decisions, and navigate challenges and stressful situations better.
The irony is that when we invest time in daily practices like these, we gain time that we would have otherwise lost to not being a productive state of mind. We become more efficient and effective. We shift our perspective from feeling like it’s all too much, to feeling like it’s not so bad after all, and the solution becomes clearer. And most importantly, the training of our minds and mastery over them allows us to function at a higher level, performing with a greater capacity for getting more done in less time – the old “work smarter not harder” chestnut.
If you did a quick Google search of any successful person on the planet, even some of the busiest people in the world, you’ll find the one thing they have in common is some sort of daily routine where they invest in their wellbeing and state of mind. People are starting to acknowledge that self-care isn’t a luxury – but a necessity for our wellbeing and success.
Some practical steps to escape the busy mindset
You may be thinking, ok that makes sense, but how do you suppose I just “stop being busy”?! Well, I’m not saying stop doing all that you’re doing. What I am suggesting is that in order to feel a sense of having more lightness and space, and to feel less busy and stressed so that your head doesn’t feel busy, you’ll need to make the time to do the things that help you achieve this state of being. Here are some practical tips for exactly how to do this:
- Set your alarm 10 minutes early in the morning
- Schedule in regular recurring time slots for yourself in your diary and treat them as important meetings – before your schedule can get filled up with other stuff
- Ask yourself what really isn’t that important and lower it on your priority list
- Ask yourself if there’s any way certain things could be done more efficiently or by someone else to free up your time
- Be present with one task at a time – stop multitasking!
- Get your personalised Mind High Club Toolkit with a daily guide so you don't even have to think about it, and can nail your self-care in 20 minutes a day.
Ok, so these are just a few simple suggestions and strategies, but essentially what it comes down to is making a choice. Are you game to hang up your busy badge for good, eliminate it from your vocabulary and sign up for choosing a sustainable existence that allows you to be more present and productive?
Until then, it may feel a bit like slogging through mud, or on the hamster of a treadmill. Next time the thought pops into your head that you’re too busy to take 10 minutes to invest in yourself, I challenge you to instead of choosing to be busy, choose yourself, and life, instead.