There Is a Better Way
By the time I get home, cook dinner, check homework, and do a load of clothes, it’s time to get ready for the next day. There’s no time for anything else. If there’s a better way, please tell me what it is!
Since you are reading this book, you likely recognize that your current lifestyle of busyness and overwork is taking its toll. You’re ready for a break, but unsure of when you can actually have one. Your schedule may sometimes feel like a cycle that never stops repeating itself—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday… Or perhaps, like I once was, you are in a bit of denial. You don’t think there is a real problem. As soon as you get through this next crunch period, you insist, all will be well. But when the “crunch period” ends, for some reason, you are still as busy as ever. All is not well! You are exhausted and it's time for a change. For years, when people would mention how busy they thought I was, I would insist that it wasn't that bad. I had time for myself. They just didn’t understand, I reasoned. But the truth is that I was defensive. And whenever you are defensive about the casual comments people make, there is probably an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
Let’s start by defining what I mean by busy. Being busy is different from hurrying, being productive, hardworking, or rushed—although a busy person may be all of those things. Webster’s Dictionary
describes the word “busy” as follows:Dictionary Definition
1. Actively or fully engaged or occupied; “busy with her work”; “a busy man”; “too busy to eat lunch”; “the line is busy.”
2. Overcrowded or cluttered with detail; “a busy painting”; “a fussy design.”
3. Intrusive in a meddling or offensive manner; “an interfering old woman”; "bustling about self–importantly making an officious nuisance of himself”; “busy about other people’s business.”
4. Crowded with or characterized by much activity; “a very busy week”; “a busy life”; “a busy street”; “a busy seaport.”
5. (Of facilities such as telephones or lavatories) Unavailable for use by anyone else or indicating unavailability; “her line is busy”; “the lavatory is in use”; “kept getting a busy signal.”Reality
1. As in, you are too occupied to have space for anything else in your life.
2. As in, a life that is too cluttered, crowded, and complicated for you to have clarity and calm.
3. As in, fighting unnecessary battles, concerning oneself with things that are not central to your purpose, and allowing others to drain your energy.
4. As in, simply having a great deal on your plate.
5. As in, unavailable to the people who matter most or the opportunities you should take advantage of.
So, in many ways, being busy is characterized by being unavailable for anything else, being fully occupied so that there is no room for anything other than that in which you are already engaged. A life that is too busy is overcrowded and overloaded. In an effort to keep up, we often get through our days in overdrive.
“But that’s just the way my life is,” you protest, “and I don’t see how I can live it any differently. All my friends and coworkers are the same way. How can I really be too busy if it’s normal?” Yes, it’s normal, but that doesn't mean we shouldn’t change it! If you’re not sure if you are really too busy, just check for some of the telltale signs. How many of these describe you?
• Your breathing is shallow.
• You never seem to be able to get anywhere on time.
• You forget things easily.
• You use your vacations, weekends, or holidays to “catch up.”
• Friends or family members complain that you don’t have time for them.
• You no longer have the energy to do the things you love to do because they just feel like more items on your to–do list.
• You feel scattered or unable to concentrate.
• You regularly make mistakes, lose things, and waste money because you are in a hurry.
Sometimes it can feel as though you are stuck in a rut of overactivity. But you are not stuck. Your life can look very different in just a few short weeks. It’s all about the choices you make and the steps you are willing to take forward day by day. It is a joy for me to get to walk alongside you on these pages as you make your shift. Like you, I’ve had my struggles with overload and overdrive. And I know firsthand that it is possible to be productive without living a cluttered, crowded life. In fact, it’s not just possible. I believe it will happen for you.My Story
Just as I began to write this book about busyness, my already full life became suddenly fuller. My husband and I found a house in a seaside community that we love—so we bought it, sold our house, and moved—all in less than forty days. We had not been planning to move; the circumstances just unfolded and we followed the desires of our hearts. Then two days before the move, a routine physical led to a life–threatening discovery in my family: Doctors informed my father that he had a previously undetected and rare birth defect that, by all accounts, should have taken his life as a child. Miraculously, he was still alive, but he would need corrective open–heart surgery right away to fix it. He stayed with us in the new house during his recovery. Meanwhile, speaking and coaching requests were suddenly more abundant than ever, and I found myself preparing for a speaking schedule that would take me to twelve cities in seven weeks. My biggest concern was for my father—a mix of gratitude and fear. Although my father and all of us around him felt grateful to have discovered this potentially fatal problem so that it could be corrected, and confident that he would make it through, I was still nervous about the prospect of my father going through such a serious surgery. Combined with the move and upcoming schedule, it was a whirlwind of activity. Coincidentally, I had scheduled that entire month to be off—something I’d planned for nearly a year. Although I didn’t spend the month with the free time I’d hoped for, the clear schedule gave me the margin I needed to handle a special move to a place we love and the time I needed to be there for my father. It felt so good to have the time to focus on the people and things that really mattered during that time.
I wish I could say that my struggle with busyness was only due to outside pressure, but truth be told, it seems I was wired that way from the time I was a child. As long as I could remember, it seemed my life had been overloaded and in overdrive. I was the kid who took many more classes than she needed to graduate from high school, participated in a sport every season, and juggled student council and at least three other extracurricular activities simultaneously. My parents never pushed me to do it; I was driven on my own, maybe to a fault. Going home right after school was a foreign concept to me. I typically made it home after six or seven every evening and spent many weekends cheering at games, competing in track meets, gymnastics meets, and pageants—and pursuing modeling when I could squeeze it in.
Not surprisingly, I grew up to continue my overload habit into adulthood. By twenty–one, I had finished graduate school. Two years later I quit my job and began working for myself full–time. I replaced a heavy class load and traded student council for professional associations, business meetings, and fund–raising events. I accomplished a lot, but at a great price. I was so focused on the destinations along my path that I usually didn’t enjoy the journey much. The focus always seemed to be on the next frontier. The combination of overload and overdrive was overwhelming. And honestly, even though I often looked like I was doing a lot, much of my time was wasted on busy work. There is a difference between being busy and being fruitful or productive. Although I was productive, I was also unnecessarily busy. I procrastinated to the very last minute on many projects, yet managed to get them done well under pressure.
Every few years I seemed to hit a wall. I felt burned out, frustrated—even angry at times. But what was I angry about? No one forced me to pile on the activities and responsibilities. Each time, I created my circumstances and then rebelled against them. I stacked up achievements, but was not satisfied. I had friends, but craved a deeper connection. I was working hard, but yearned to make more money for my efforts. I had a successful business, but little time for success in love. I was oblivious to the idea that life does not have to be lived in a hurry because there was simply always too much to do.
At that time, I didn’t know any other way to live than to be busy and on–the–go at all times. I wanted to slow down, but I was afraid I would miss out on something. What, exactly, I didn’t know. But as I began peeling back the layers, I discovered that my habitual busyness was a result of several unrelated but intertwined issues. I had never known anything else. I valued achievement more highly than joy, which led to speeding toward the finish line of every project, goal, or task without regard for the gift of the journey. I had bought into the belief that taking on more work, projects, or activities validated my worth, abilities, and potential. Certainly there is nothing wrong with being industrious, but beware when busyness becomes a self–esteem substitute. When I was finally able to lay it all out and confront what had motivated me all these years, I was able to learn several important lessons:• Faith, family, and friends form the foundation of fulfillment, not achievements, activity, and the approval of others.
• An unclear vision of where you are headed leads to a scattered array of unconnected activities.
• You can always find more to do. It is more challenging to learn to just be.
• Procrastination gives you the illusion that you are busier than you really are.
• Procrastination is a bad habit, and like any other habit, you can break it.
• Perfectionism is not about excellence. It is about fear.
• When you have unresolved issues in one area of life, you are prone to overcompensate in areas in which you feel you have more control.
• Achievement can become an addiction that keeps you frighteningly tethered to the rat race.
• Just because there's more to do doesn't mean it has to be done today.
• Enjoying your journey must be a top priority.
It has taken a great many intentional choices to make a shift—and the journey continues. Like any lifestyle change, it was important for me not to treat just the surface symptoms, but to delve deeper and evaluate my whole life, my approach, and discover where my behaviors stemmed from. Once I came to terms with the lessons above, I was able to adjust my approach to living and working—and to use my experience in my one–on–one work with clients individually and in groups. I simply became tired of being out of balance. I work hard now, but I don’t work all the time. It took me a while to notice that my life was all about getting things done—and to decide that I wanted my life to be more than that. It’s been a long road to get to the point of being productive, yet well rested—and focused on the things that truly matter most in life.
Let’s consider again the first lesson I listed above: Faith, family, and friends form the foundation of fulfillment. Everyone needs a strong foundation on which to live. You are out there in the world accomplishing your unique assignments in life, and you need an anchor to keep you steady. No matter what happens, you need to have sources of unconditional love, joy, and support, a place where it doesn’t matter if you succeed or fail. It doesn’t matter if you get everything done or do it perfectly. This foundation can hold you up when you are exhausted or weak, energize you when you pursue your dreams, and fire you up to live with purpose. This foundation is comprised of three components: 1) your faith, which is your spiritual life or relationship with God; 2) your family, which can include parents, spouse, children, siblings, and other relatives as well as other loved ones such as a significant other, very close friends, and so forth; and 3) other friends. This foundation is the base of the lifestyle you want to create. That lifestyle can be illustrated as a pyramid similar to a food pyramid. All of the various elements work together to bring health and harmony, and throughout the next 28 days, we’ll look closely at each of the five levels and explore how you can enhance each one. Notice that work is not the foundation—in fact, it’s level #3!Is This a Turning Point for You?
My turning point came when I got married. My husband became a mirror for me and my overloaded, overdriven habits. It is often more difficult for single people, especially those without children, to notice when their lives are out of balance. When the only person you are accountable to is yourself, you can wear yourself into the ground and no one sees you eating cereal for dinner, staying up into the wee hours of the night, or coming in the door at eight or later every evening.
Before we were married, my husband came to visit me (we lived in different states) for New Year’s. I am embarrassed to say, I was working. Quite honestly, I didn’t think it was a big deal. But he did. “Why did you ask me to come here if you were going to work the whole time?” he asked. In my mind, I was only working a little. Of course, that’s because I was not used to being accountable to anyone. Working a little for me regularly turned into working all day. When he said it, I felt a sudden burst of guilt. Deep down I knew I was out of balance, and now here was someone I truly loved and hoped to have a future with essentially pointing out that my habits were affecting him. In so many words, he was saying, “Hello? I want some of your attention, too! How important am I to you?”
Excerpted from How Did I Get So Busy? by Valorie Burton. Copyright © 2007 by Valorie Burton. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.