I knock on doors every evening between 4:00 and 9:00. This means people come to the door when they’re in the middle of making dinner, getting ready to go to a football meeting, or trying to bathe squirmy toddlers and get them to bed.
The common refrain that I hear (several dozen times a night) is: I’m too busy right now.
Often neighbors will rattle off a list of very important things they have to do. Some of which probably are important. But we are all so busy that we don’t stop to distinguish between which activities are meaningful and which are just . . . filler.
There is a myth that most Americans wholeheartedly believe. It is a myth that work and activity are inherently good. If we toil at a job for a certain number of hours every week and have a large number of obligations outside of work, then we are doing the right thing.
It is what’s expected of us.
For many of us, how busy we are is a measure of our self worth.
I am coming to believe that this myth causes me great stress. There have been times when I felt like a violin string that was ready to snap.
It causes me to miss out on potential moments of Joy.
I don’t connect with those around me because my head is too busy running over my to-do list. I end up feeling bad about what I haven’t accomplished. I cease to exist in the present and am caught in a cycle of worry.
The obvious conclusion is that I need to slo-w d-o–w—n. The ultimate way to slow down is through meditation, something I frequently read about but rarely do. The idea is that if you can’t clear your mind and be calm when you are sitting perfectly still, then how will you be able to find peace and serenity in any other situation?
Although I don’t currently meditate, I am trying hard to put my energy towards what really matters to me. The hardest thing for me is to opt not to do something when I feel as if others expect me to. I fear that saying no means I will disappoint them.
But sixty, seventy, or even eighty years from now, when I look back on my life and consider how I’ve spent my time, those people I “disappointed” won’t be there beside me. If I choose what really matters, then my life will be richer, and ultimately I will do more good for this world.
I have learned that the best thing to do when I’m “too busy” is not to plow through my next important task, but to take a walk and observe the beauty of the world around me. Flowers bask in the sun and unfold at their own pace. They are never too busy. And animals aren’t aware of time in the same way as humans. Sleeping is always at the top of my cat’s to-do list.
Nature reminds me that how many tasks I accomplish in a day does not alter who I am. The length of my to-do list doesn’t make me a better person because it has nothing to do with what kind of person I am.
(My alternative, although less helpful, approach to managing stress is bursting into tears and eating a large bowl of ice cream.)
Question(s) of the day: Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your to-do list, and if so, how do you handle this?
The irony of this post is that I haven’t updated my blog in over a week . . . because I’ve been busy.