Our lives have become disoriented. The demands of work, image, finance, family, social cohesion, health, intimate relationships, and general upkeep have become so prevalent as to be all-consuming.
The days of living life for its own sake seem to be, at times – a distant memory.
We have fallen into patterns of believing that we must always be “busy” in order to maintain our value to others, or more dangerously, to maintain value to ourselves.
This does not imply that being productive is undesirable, rather it calls to question what being productive and busy actually means.
Being busy is simply an issue of believing that your daily tasks are more difficult, time-consuming, or even impossible than they actually are.
“I can’t meet you for a drink or make time to socialize, I’m just so busy right now.”
Take care in making such a statement. It may be true in extreme cases, but what you likely are is unfocused and without structures adequate to your individual needs – which vary from person to person over different stages of life.
When we use the word ‘busy’, it’s usually in context to feeling some form of disorientation. We name off at rapid-fire rates all the things we still need to do, obsess over them, and then carry on the pattern of accomplishing very few of those things because a routine has been built around disorientation itself.
For example, here’s a typical day in the life of most people’s busy lives. Let’s use a Monday as our analogue.
7am – Wake up, shower, get dressed
8am – Check the news, social media, messages, and emails, and have breakfast.
9am-5pm – Work. Bear in mind most people don’t work 100% of the day. Breaks, bathroom trips, lunch, and distractions break up the workday into sprints more than marathons.
5pm – Make your way home or run errands. Typically this takes 30min-2 hours.
(Adjusted average) 6pm – 10pm – Busy talk takes over. By 6pm, most people claim they are either busy or have been all day long and begin to let their minds race with all the things they still want/have to do. But out of the analysis, comes unproductive worry and paralysis. In extreme cases, avoidance and numbing substances are also possible.
Rarely does anything truly get done once this sets in. Most people do tiny amounts of each thing, or nothing at all, and claim busy status while in reality accomplishing little to nothing (save a handful of pressing priorities necessary to the lifestyle chosen).
That’s a problem. Not of time but of personal accountability.
At this point, you may be thinking of your particular circumstances. Maybe you have children, maybe you’re in school, maybe you have a business to run, maybe you have an active social life but are starting to let people down – or maybe multiple of these things.
It may surprise you, but none of these things once acted upon with structure and conviction, take very much time at all. With structure, you’re not busy, you’re productive.
Take a moment here to grab a piece of paper and write down your top 5 Monday priorities and time stamp each one as a worst-case time-crunched scenario.
Now let’s say we take your listed example and reframe them as time-locked priorities.
Sure they may seem daunting, but if you take count of how much time each of them actually takes to finish to completion, most of the time you’ll be shocked to find that the resources demanded of you tend to be far less than you imagined. Some things can even be stacked – like studying on your commute home using books or audio for example.
Now, do these things in the order of priority you’ve set for yourself and keep track of the time it took you to do them.
Even from the very beginning, you’re likely to find at least 1 out of 5 of those priorities took far less time than you’d imagined. You may now have taken a notice of how certain habits may be robbing you of your time – like how many times you stopped to check your phone for instance. One minute here and there may not seem like much, but if you checked your phone twenty times in a single hour for just a single minute each time, you just wasted forty percent of your productive time, which means you’ve gone from productive to feeling too busy.
Being productive simply means staying focused on performing the task rather than obsessing over it. And there’s no law that says productivity has to be without a reward system for yourself.
And Finally, Skipping Stones
Adulthood is filled with things we have to do, but mostly it’s filled with things we’ve either chosen or not chosen to do. If we use the phone example, forty percent of work life is still an unproductive ‘busy’ minded decision. Forty percent is immensely significant. So why not make a choice to use it wisely?
Now that you have a framework for busy vs productive, how do you get your life back?
The answer, is you go out and skip a few stones with your friends.
Skipping stones is a timeless childhood activity that nearly everyone has enjoyed at some point. It’s simple and challenging enough to be a worthy distraction from the demands on our waking hours – especially if we incorporate our friends into the activity.
You can design any number of games and social gatherings around such a simple activity because nobody needs to have anything special or be particularly talented in order to enjoy it. It’s simply meant to bring people together and recapture a moment of our shared childhoods – which can help close gaps in interpersonal relationships by reminding us of the fundamental truth of what it meant to have once been a child. Even if only 30 minutes were set aside, that’s 30 minutes of time you’ve reclaimed from the curse of being too busy to connect with others as well as yourself.
Of course, this activity may not be preferred, or even possible for everyone, but something just as simple certainly in principle is always within reach.
Slow down, skip stones, then come back with clarity and focus.