It seems curious that 'busyness' has become such a status symbol of our times. Why has busyness become a marker for success? We wear it like a badge of honour, "Oh I'm SOOOO BUSY!" When was the last time you heard someone exclaim that they weren't busy?
We are too busy to go on holiday, to switch off even when we are on holiday, we are so busy that we have to read our emails/social media feeds before bed and the minute we wake up...It is deemed perfectly normal to be glued to your smartphone and have your laptop surgically attached to you.
How and why have we forgotten the art, and maybe more importantly, the value of doing less and slowing down?
Let's rewind to 27 BC (ish), to the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus, who famously coined the term "Festina Lente!", translated as "Hasten, Slowly" or "Advance, Slowly" (given the military connotations). Now this oxymoronic phrase was one of many he used, including "Better a safe commander than a bold", "That which has been done well has been done quickly enough".
Emperor Augustus was clearly a busy man himself, he had an Empire to build, soldiers to train, but his words seem sage-like for one who conquered most of Europe and beyond. His considered and reflective approach seems to have served him and his empire well.
Fast forward to the year 2019 and Augustus's quote serves as a reminder that in order to get things done, it has to be done well, which does not mean quickly, nor simultaneously with everything on our mile-long to-do lists.
Of course, there are two millennia in between us and Augustus, but I still can't help but think there is a wisdom in his reflective style that we have forgotten. Under all our mile-long to-do lists, goals the size of houses, constant need for likes and spinning more plates than we can handle is a need to be distracted. Have we become a generation that is afraid to pause, reflect, to go within and introspect?
The exponential growth of technology in this century has added to our life of distractions. According to one source the human brain is loaded with 34GB of information...daily! That's a HUGE amount of data, that would overload a laptop within a week.
Microsoft research shows that our concentration span has fallen from 12 seconds from 2000 to 8 seconds in 2019. That's a 1/3 in the last 19 years, which seems quite significant. Although not really a surprise given that everything is now bitesized, you only have to watch Peppa Pig!
Thankfully, we aren't computers and we can allow ourselves the space to reflect. We can ourselves ask ourselves if "this attraction is a distraction?" and take a moment to slow down, pause and NOT react to the next what's app message that appears on our phone or the next email that pings into our inbox.
Not reacting is key, but not as easy as it sounds. Scientific data shows we seek comfort in the instant gratification, it makes us feel momentarily better and gives us a dopamine high, which we may regret later.
The origins to why we like being busy could go even deeper still, ranging from the inability to say no due to our social conditioning, not setting clear boundaries for ourselves or using it as a coping mechanism.
Long term goals may not give us that dopamine hit that we so enjoy, but in order to pursue that promotion, to find that relationship, to create that financial stability we need to nurture ourselves and in order to advance, we have to go about it slowly and take our time. But if all we are doing are the little instantly gratifying tasks, then there is no time to do the big things that make a difference in our lives and create a life of purpose.
Thankfully, as I mentioned above, we are not computers. And we have a choice.
Next time we find ourselves telling others we are "So busy", let's take a moment to explore what it really means:
- Am I really saying...I'm overwhelmed, I'm more important than you, or I am avoiding someone or something in my life? Take a moment or two for self reflection, perhaps we need support, what or who exactly are we avoiding or perhaps there is a deeper meaning behind why we are getting distracted. Really try to hone in on what it is.
- Let's be kind and compassionate to ourselves as we would be towards others. Don't let the gremlins in our head berate ourselves for taking time out to reflect and be a human being, after all we are not human doings. Self care is key, especially if you have other people to support.
If we can recognise these elements within ourselves, then it's a great start. Although we might feel uncomfortable with this introspection we can only move forward when we do AND when coupled with taking action it can help us to do things differently, thus avoiding burnout.
Going back to Emperor Augustus, if we remember his mantra in our modern day lives, and choose to take the time to reflect and see clearly. Pause and take a moment to imagine what is achievable.
Coming from a guy who created the Roman Empire...it might actually be quite BIG.