Last December I found myself packing a notebook and a camera, starting the car engine with the sunrise and heading south to the Dead-Sea area to do research for an article I was preparing for an Israeli environmental magazine. I drove the three and half hours to get there, then five hours of guided tour and exploration – filling page after page with comments – then three and a half hours of driving back. Alone in the car, with my music and a cup of fresh coffee, I felt a strong urge to close my eyes – just for a few minutes – but of course I couldn’t. I realized then that I had kept them wide open this entire day, without the shortest break to let my brain and body digest all the information and sights I’d come across.
Clearly this was not a sustainable working process. My strong, sudden need for relaxation, even if only for a short while, was a physical sign from my body that I needed to slow down. I can only assume that if I had put a bit more effort into planning my work schedule, and given some attention to my own needs before hand – I wouldn’t have encountered a situation where the need for rest became so urgent.
Being busy, (and more often than not, extremely busy) is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Like it or not, we have become addicted to being over busy. We keep our heads and eyes down into the cell-phone, the tablet and the computer – sometimes all at once. We demand (or at least expect) people we work with to reply to messages in an instant – yet we often neglect our replies to friends and relatives for days. When we approach someone for the first time through an email – we are most likely to be ignored, because inboxes are swamped and there is a ridiculously long “to do” list preoccupying our attention. Too often we procrastinate, falling behind on tasks, which we must then prioritize over other tasks, creating and endless busyness loop. And mainly, we SOUND BUSY, both to others and to ourselves.
Our Ideal Image of Ego and Power
Assuming no one wants this stressful life – when you can no longer be spontaneous or put aside your cell-phone while you’re sitting face to face with a close friend – why do we keep going on this path and perpetuating the over-busy lifestyle? Research conducted at the University of Chicago found there is a prevalent belief that busyness is a sign of success and hard work. The researcher indicated that we use busyness to hide from our laziness and fear of failure. We spend precious time doing things that are not immediately important, because busyness makes us feel productive. Social media addiction, anyone?
Addressing the question of how busyness connects directly to our feelings of success, and to our ideal image of power and ego, is especially interesting because of the irony folded within. We appreciate in others the qualities of professionalism, as well as good manners, and interpersonal relations; yet we want to appear to others as busy – meaning that we don’t always respond to their requests on time, we delay the reply to their email – or even ignore it! – And we often give attention only to the most urgent issues which were directed to us. This type of behavior is not very professional or polite, and would hardly fall under the category of “good interpersonal relations”.
Occasionally I watch my friends and colleagues, many of whom are involved in valuable social actions and projects around the world. So valuable, that I feel humble and inspired by their actions. Yet I find it very confusing that those same people – who participate deeply in the service of society – often can’t find the time to personally interact with other individuals. I’m not talking about interactions during a business meeting, or about a quick WhatsApp message, or a one-liner email every now and then. I’m talking about old-fashioned human interaction at its best; the kind that allows true conversations to appear; the kind that opens the heart and mind to new levels of interaction – face to face dialogues (either in person or on-line).
“But we are so busy”, they explain, in an apologetic way. And I think, there’s no need to apologize. You ARE busy. You are doing tremendously important work, and society is moving forward thanks to you. Yet, at the same time, society suffers from a shortage of deep personal connections and trustful friendships, something that we are all responsible for. The good news is that if we are responsible for it, we can also fix it.
The Fourth Ingredient
I wonder when this era of over busyness started. I trace it back to the entrance of high-speed internet into our lives, availability of Wi-Fi connection everywhere, which allows us to turn our mobile into a 24/7 transportable office. At the same time, I also observe the evermore common practices of yoga and meditation, and wonder whether it’s a direct response to this hectic life-style.
This potential correlation brings me back to the story I shared at the beginning, about the lack of planned relaxation breaks in our everyday lives. A while ago I attended a lecture given by a naturopathic doctor, explaining the importance of healthy nutrition for a balanced life. You can eat as healthy as you want, she mentioned, but if you don’t pay attention to the other three ingredients – your life style will remain unhealthy and unbalanced. The other two other ingredients–continuing physical activity and a good night’s sleep– were quite obvious to me. What caught me by surprise was the fourth ingredient: Relaxation!
So does that mean that in order to sustain ourselves we should spend our days lying in the sun, drinking cocktails and listening to soft music? Not exactly. There’s nothing wrong with a vacation now and then; but the intention here is to integrate a daily practice that involves relaxation, for the purpose of allowing the body and mind to rest, digest and move on, restoring our strength, and also – not so surprising, but frequently forgotten– re-energizing our creativity and productivity. The following thought, taken from a Shavasana yoga description, says it best: “In the closing of the practice comes an integration phase, where the effects of the practice are allowed to take hold and penetrate deep into the self”.
Five Practices to Ward off Over-Busyness
Define your work-hours, and stick to them. If you don’t plan to work in the evenings, on the weekends, or when you’re with your family and friends – then don’t! Unless it’s a matter of life and death, what couldn’t possibly wait until the morning?
Put your cell-phone away when you’re talking to someone face to face. Answering calls or texts while you’re supposed to give your attention to the person in front of you, conveys the message: There’s something or someone more important than you right now. And while adults might be able to ignore or excuse this message, children hear it loud and clear.
Embrace a daily practice of relaxation, when you allow your body and mind to disconnect from work, stress or even over-thinking. It could be sport or physical activity, a mindfulness practice, reading a book (not from your screen), an arts and crafts project, or having coffee with a good friend just for the fun of it. As mentioned above – it won’t hurt your work; on the contrary – it will allow you to perform much better.
Listen to your body. If it asks for a break, don’t ignore it or postpone too much. It may sound like laziness to take a break from work, but pausing for a while actually helps avoid burning out and sustains our physical and mental health.
Proportions, Proportions, Proportions. Internet connection, technology, high availability – are all great and highly appreciated; but as all good stuff – they serve us best when we control them and not the other way around.