The Cry of the Over-Committed

One of the things that keeps smacking me in the face is not necessarily that we are, but how much we are the products of our choices. And when I say ‘we’, I refer mostly to those of us who have the luxury of making as many choices as we do, not the equal amounts of people who do not. Where and how we work, live and play are layers of life we are privileged enough to choose to assemble, deconstruct, develop and build how we see fit.

Something else we can choose, ultimately, is how busy we are. How much we take on. I was giving this a little thought when my dear friend Sandi put this article up on Facebook, one I had forgotten I had read and one which sums this whole busy obsession up far more succinctly than I can. We all tend to do a lot because we equate busyness with productivity or see downtime as a waste of time, or feel if we aren’t doing something, we’re not achieving anything. It’s a lifestyle we have constructed, one that values constant activity, constant engagement and devalues time spent doing ‘nothing’, even though ‘nothing’ is so often important reflection or replenishment. So we work, work out, socialise, volunteer, do side projects, travel, study, renovate, sit in traffic for hours getting to various appointments, tapping away on our smart phones (don’t pretend you don’t, I can see you from the bus). And all power to whoever does all of the above while on the phone to a debt collection company claiming you own them $619 for a phone bill from two years ago. And we tend to do it all, because we can. We tend to commit to the point our plates are so full we lose our shit on a Wednesday morning because we have overwhelmed ourselves beyond the point we probably should. We love being busy, we love telling people how busy we are. Social media was made for that shit.

It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

Tim Kreider,  ‘The Busy Trap’, NYTimes.

Of course, we don’t have to be the busiest, most exhausted person on the planet. We don’t get a little crown once we pass through the pearly gates and tick the box next to ‘did you spend most of your life so busy, all you could ever talk about was how tired you were?’ And presumably when we’re old and grey and sipping a G&T with our best friend and/or decrepit dog by our side, we’re not going to say ‘I just loved how busy I was throughout my 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. I was so busy I can’t remember a fecking thing I actually did, but I must have done a lot because I was busy.’ 

I suppose, really, what I am trying to get at is, if you have assembled the layers of your life in a manner that is busy, then I’m not entirely sure I want to hear about it*. And next time someone asks, just say, ‘fine thanks, how are you?’ so we can crack on and get to the interesting part of the conversation.

*I am by no means exempting myself from the ‘busy’ people, I am just as bad as everyone else. I vow, henceforth, to consciously stop saying ‘busy’ in response to any question I am asked, particularly if I am busy purely as a result of privileged choices have made.

26 thoughts on “The Cry of the Over-Committed

  1. Love your words, Liv!
    “Crazy busy” is an acceptable state to be in, and if you’re not in it, you’re slacking off.

    But since reading that article, I have been conscious of my own life and how ‘busy’ I really am.When people ask me if I can do things, I have taken to saying “I’ll have to get back to you and see if that works for me.”.

    By not always saying yes to everything right off the bat, I have time to reflect and weigh up the pros and cons if something is worth adding to my plate. It helps me with my “busyness”.

    1. Absolutely. I think saying no, or choosing home for a weekend, or not taking on an extra committment you don’t need to, gives you time to focus on the things you REALLY want to – and gives you time for other things too, other not-so-busy things.

  2. Brilliantly written, as always! I was just thinking about this yesterday after going to dinner with some friends from college. Being busy IS a choice which nowadays is celebrated, don’t you think? I loved this post so much I’m thinking of printing it. 🙂

  3. Perhaps people could read ‘How to be Idle’, just an idle idea. One reason people feel they ‘ought’ to be ‘oh so busy’ is, although this goes without saying, because other people are seemingly ‘oh so busy’, ‘oh so high achieving’ bla bla bla – terrible stuff really, that feeling of ‘ought to do this, that and the other’ to conform in the ever so important busy bee world, even though you don’t have the wim to do so.. Do as you please, in a considerate manner, of course, not as others expect or want. Living upto other people’s expectations of what constitutes ‘life’ is a tad on the ridiculous side. Now it’s time to get busy because I am not… Most importantly, I will say to your face I am not busy. I am idling away, doing the do, speaking the speak – and not really doing anything ‘you’, as in the ‘busy’ want to be ‘doing’. Doing. Idling is also a doing word. Ps. my rabble is a product of idling, something my bf’s American mother wouldn’t abide. She’s an advocate of telling us, incessently “Oh, he, she, I, the rat for all I care, are all doing this, that and the other, they’re all so high achieving, I’m an underachiever” blablaba – I refers to her – she has two degrees, hardly underachieving – what a sorry state to be in. I smile with glee and idle away.
    Pps. Rant over.

  4. Have you seen “Spaced” – quite a funny series. One of the main characters, Daisy, is oh so busy…. doing actually nothing. Not sure if the Channel 4 site works in your neck of the woods, or perhaps you have a proxy:

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/SW1qnQMXP-Eqg

    It’s really funny when Daisy describes what she ‘does’ to her new landlandy. Ep. 1

    1. Hijacking almost over:

      http://www.amazon.com/How-Be-Idle-Tom-Hodgkinson/dp/0060779683

      http://www.amazon.com/The-Underachievers-Manifesto-Accomplishing-Feeling/dp/0811853683/ref=pd_sim_b_4/182-4520998-1951526

      Self-help guides for the busy, haha. Actually, don’t worry, they’re not self-help guides (big relief) at all, they’re simply a means by which to idle your time away, and laugh at busyness.

      I’m thinking this might go down well as a Christmas present for my boyfriend’s mum, thing is, I don’t think I would manage to keep a straight face over the entire present-giving procedure, or the whole endurance test, for that matter:

      http://www.amazon.com/The-Idle-Parent-Laid-Back-Healthier/dp/1585428000/ref=pd_sim_b_3/182-4520998-1951526

      1. Definitely need to get my hands on that ‘How to be Idle’ book! I love your comment hijacking, I always find/learn something new!

  5. I always feel like I have to justify myself if I’m not busy. If I’m just being, I feel I ought to be doing. There are some people who manage to make me feel uncomfortable if I spent just one weekend having a break. I’m going to do that thing you’ve mentioned. Stop telling everyone that I’m busy. I like what you said: “And next time someone asks, just say, ‘fine thanks, how are you?’ so we can crack on and get to the interesting part of the conversation.” Made me chuckle.
    I think it’s important that some of us start infiltrating life with the living rather than the simply doing side of being. Otherwise in a few years’ time there won’t even be any of those unspoilt places that busy people “retreat” to once in a life to “recharge” overcharged batteries 😉

    1. Yes re: justification, me too! Am trying really hard to NOT frantically list off ALL THE THINGS I have been doing when someone asks how I am, just so I can be part of the busy club ahaha. We think busy is best, and I am no exception. I have only recently really thought about why we load up our plates just because we can, just because being ‘busy’ is such a valued state. But when we’re so busy, and so tired, everything suffers. Our relationships, our health, our ability and time to appreciate other elements of life. We get so caught up in a packed schedule, a week goes by and sure, we can tick off a whole lot of things we’ve done, but that is so often just a mechanical thing.

      And look, be busy, by all means. Just retain the ability to talk about other things hahaha.

  6. Ever since I first read that article, I’ve tried to refrain from using the word ‘busy’ but man is it hard! I HATE having this much on my plate because I get beyond overwhelmed on far too many occasions and my body hates me for it.

    But I’m trying to think about once this degree is over & what kind of un-busy life I’d like to live. THAT gets me through it all!

    Great article once again Olivia 🙂

  7. “Keeping busy” does seem to be a common response. I think it’s our way of making sure that others no we aren’t just sitting around doing nothing? I’m not sure. Although I have to agree – I keep so busy and am so tired but when I’m older is all of it really going to matter?

    1. We are so concerned with appearing to do it all, have it all, always be on the go and craaaazy busy. I just wonder how often we keep ourselves busy for the sake of being busy, to go through the motions of being a ‘busy person’.

        1. Definitely. I will always remember SG telling me he hated getting coffee in takeaway cups because it made him look pretentiously busy. I was completely bamboozled (I LOVE getting takeaway coffees). The other day I ordered a takeaway coffee while tapping on my smart phone and just thought, ‘oh wow, now look how busy I am.’ Everything we do is geared around doing AS MUCH as possible and being as connected, as engaged, as often as possible with everyone else. But I don’t know if we even know why we do it.

          1. I think we do it because we feel like we need to do it because everyone else is doing it! It’s just the way our generation’s mindset works now thanks to technology / business / society. It’s the way we’ve grown up with mass amounts of ways to communicate and reach out and we’ve developed this need (desire?) to utilize those channels and in the process, having such a large network creates this need to impress more by doing more? All speculation on my part, but in some ways I think it makes sense.

  8. I think a lot of people (including myself) think -or like to think- that they are busier than they really are sometimes too. As if society necessitates that we must be or else we are not good enough. Sometimes isn’t it better to just sit back, relax, and just do things we want to do instead?! I am def on a mission to get my work-home life balance back and loved this article. It’s important to do what you want (if you can) but its equally important nt to sometimes as well. X

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