When people ask me how I’m doing, I avoid saying that I’m “busy.” For many people, this is the standard response to any question about their life.
But being busy doesn’t mean being proficient. Or being successful. Or being anything other than engaged with too many things and not really wanting to share something that’s on your mind.
Everyone’s busy with daily tasks, of course. But is that really what being busy is? Getting through the day is something most people manage without really thinking about what they’re doing. They wake up, get to work, get home, run a few errands, manage a few meals, talk to a few people and call it a day. Or call themselves busy. They’re being active (if not entirely engaged) and calling it busy to make themselves believe that they’re accomplishing more than what they’re actually doing.
But having so much to do doesn’t lead to accomplishment. That dread non-activity of most Americans actually does. That would be reflective time. Downtime, meditation time, thinking time. Time that isn’t spent being busy.
When you overwhelm yourself with too many things to do – when you’re busy, that is, or say that you are overscheduled – you lose out on actually thinking creatively and coming up with something original. Maybe you don’t want to lead a life of creativity and passion. But I think that most people actually do want to contribute something new to the world. If they’d only give themselves time to think. Breakthroughs don’t come in the middle of juggling tasks. They come from having taken the time to give your mind a rest, so that when you’re refreshed you can think beyond the tasks at hand.
Too many mental loads “can consume mental capacity, leading to dull thought and anhedonia — a flattened ability to experience pleasure,” writes Moshe Bar in an essay he wrote for the New York Times concerning a study he co-published in Psychology Science about clutter and one’s inner life.
That doesn’t mean that deadlines and conflict don’t lead to creativity. We need to set goals for ourselves. But sometimes we need to do away with the routine we call being busy in order to let our inner selves find innovation in calm.[rps]