There is no other question that stirs the same intense feeling of guilt inside me as when a friend casually asks, “When do you next have a free weekend?” I dig in my bag for my bulging Filofax and flick through its pages, laden with scribbled engagements and reminders. As page after page is flicked past, I watch as my friend sags a little, the excitement of an impending day out slowly disappearing as, in a deeply apologetic tone I offer, “Um…. maybe April?”
You see, I suffer from a permanent case of ‘busy’. Friends joke about having to ‘book me in advance’ like you might do a train ticket or hotel. My to-do lists make me feel panicked by their extensiveness instead of organised. I sometimes consider whether there might be a way to set my text messages to begin with “Sorry for the late reply…” by default. Or maybe I could create an auto-reply that begins, “Thanks for your text message, Rosie will typically reply within 3-5 business days.” Frankly, when you’re too busy to spend the five seconds it takes to reply to a text message, something is very wrong in your life.
But I’m certainly not the only one. My friends may not always have a social calendar that runs 1-2 months in advance, but most are suffering the effects of juggling busy social lives, relationships, hobbies, jobs, and some of them have children and second jobs on top of that. When I browse through Twitter I see other people like me despairing about their demanding to-do lists, lack of hours in the day, long days at work and not enough sleep.
I am interminably envious of people who have time to ‘do nothing’. The other day I saw someone tweet that they were bored and had nothing to do. Most people see boredom as a negative emotion – how dull, to be bored! But I was actually jealous. I can’t recall a time when I’ve been bored, and even if I were, there is always, always something I have to do. Even on those rare occasions I win back an evening or a few hours I spend it tidying, sorting, cleaning or checking emails. To do nothing would be a rare treat indeed.
Actually, even when I’m doing something I’m always tempted to do something else at the same time. I can’t relax and watch TV because it feels like a wasted opportunity to not simultaneously reply to emails on my iPad or read something for work. Whilst on the spin bike I’ll catch up on my Netflix watching (okay, not a chore, but still) and whilst blogging I’ll have multiple other tabs open, reading the news, other blogs, pinning, Tumblring, uploading photos to Flickr and doing a bit of internet shopping. I judge my self-worth by how productive I’ve been – “what did I achieve today?” I think, as I’m falling asleep. How many things did I tick off the to-do list?
In an effort to feel more peaceful and calm I’ve started guided meditation. About halfway through the ten-minute audio the soothing voice asks, “What emotions do you feel today? Take a moment to consider how you feel.” I feel tired, I think. Every time. I am really, really tired. The guided meditation tells me to think about the moment I am in right there and then; to listen to the sounds outside (a car rolls by, a dog barks in the distance), to feel the sensation of the floor under my feet and to let my thoughts float by. I have immense difficulty doing this, not only whilst meditating but in life in general. How often do I take that moment to walk down a street enjoying the sights, smells and sounds of a neighbourhood – or do I plug my headphones in, quicken my step to get where I’m going and focus my attention on mentally scrolling through the errands of the day (whilst checking Twitter on my phone?) I dread to think of the experiences and pleasures I miss out on because I’m almost always obsessively thinking of how much I have to do.
The truth is, the cold, hard, mean old truth, is that busyness is a choice. All of the things on my plate are things I have selected from the buffet and piled on in some kind of greedy binge of over-commitment. Busy is a result of too much ‘yes’ or too much ambition. Or too much fear of saying no. Or too much fear of the opposite. You see, if I am busy, it means I am wanted. People want to see me, companies want me to blog about them, at work people want to have meetings with me and at home I am the person in charge of the food shop, the bank accounts and the growing pile of items to eBay. CAN’T YOU SEE HOW BUSY AND IMPORTANT I AM? One thing that deep down I know, above all things, is that doing nothing is really important. Doing the food shop and making sure we have soya milk and bananas for our morning smoothies is pretty important. Booking a dentist’s appointment, my car’s MOT and the train tickets for that impending trip, they’re all pretty important. But doing nothing once in a while (actually, once every week AT LEAST) is really important.
My resolution? I’m going to stop being so busy. I’m going to start saying no. And I’m going to start judging my self-worth by how kind I am to myself and how much time I make for my friends and family. And next time I tell you I’m busy, well that might just mean I’m busy doing nothing but watching trashy TV and finding the bottom of a packet of M&Ms. And reminding myself that doing that, and only that, is okay.
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