“How are you?”
“Crazy, as usual.”
“It’s been insane around here.”
This seems to be the mantra in offices and homes around the country.
Why are we so busy?
We have more luxuries than any generation before could ever imagine. Any piece of information we need is available at our fingertips at any moment; we can have our groceries, our shopping trip, our Christmas gifts, and just any anything else delivered directly to our house; and we can get meaningful work done on our mobile devices while we are standing in line at the bank (not that we ever have to stand in line at the bank anymore since we all use online banking).
So in theory, we should be less busy than ever, not more busy than ever, right?
I can relate. I have spent my entire life complaining about how busy I am. When I was in 4th grade, I was asked to play the lead role in the church Christmas musical. I turned it down and asked to play the supporting character instead. Why? I cited that I was too busy with homework and piano practice to have time to learn the lines.*
I’ve only gotten busier since then, until recently, when I realized that I was guilty of what so many of us are: being a busy-ness martyr.
A busy-ness martyr is what I call a person whose schedule is too hectic, but does it because evidently the world cannot turn without them holding it up on its axis. Thank goodness for their selfless sacrifice.
The trouble is that the world can turn without them.
If you are a busy-ness martyr, as I have spent most of my life being, and you are tired of your crazy schedule, it’s time to give up your addiction to busy-ness. There IS hope! It’s time to identify why you are so damned busy, and turn things around once and for all.
So, why are you so busy?
Because you want to be.
Why else would you be so busy if you don’t want to be? Is it not you who runs your life? Of course it is. Unless you are in captivity and have a gun to your head and must be busy or you will be killed, you are not forced to be busy.
You can make your life whatever you want it to be. You choose your job. You choose to have a family. You choose to attend the social events in your life.
“But Anna,” you say, “I desperately need help with my busy schedule. I don’t want to be this busy. Of course it is not my choice. Please help me!”
Whose choice was it then if not yours? This leads to the logical conclusion that you want to be busy. The next question is, why?
Let’s examine some of the most common reasons one by one and, more importantly, learn how to reverse them so that you can have a more peaceful and enjoyable life.
It makes you feel needed.
Your boss calls you into her office at 6:14pm, right as you’re about to walk out the door. She is begging you to help her with a last-minute proposal for an important client. If the proposal is accepted by the client, it could make the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.
You reluctantly agree to help.
When you and your boss finally finish the proposal, your boss says, “Oh, thank you so much. What would I do without you?!”
You sigh with frustration. While outwardly you hate these kind of requests, somewhere deep inside, you are satisfied. You are needed. The work you do is important. The skills and knowledge you have are valued and useful.
Or try another scenario:
You have tried for weeks to have “you night” every Thursday evening. You read in a magazine that it’s important for mental health. You have told your 3 kids about your new plan multiple times, and each time, they agree. But whenever Thursday evening rolls around, suddenly your kids need lunches packed for the next day, permission slips signed. Even your husband needs your opinion on something work related.
Outwardly you are frustrated that no one is respecting your “you time.” But on the inside, you love that they need you for so many things. “I guess this is what it means to be a mom,” you say, as you give up the single sliver of alone time you have requested the entire week.
How to reverse it:
As long as you derive your self worth from what others need from you, you will never escape your busy schedule no matter how many changes you make to it. The world turns fine without you, and everyone is actually ok with that– except you.
Don’t get me wrong. It is a fundamental pleasure to have your skills utilized and to take care of your children. There is nothing wrong with that. But it becomes a problem if your need to be needed comes before your need to take care of yourself and not overwhelm yourself with a hectic schedule.
So what can you do?
- Realize that the world can turn without you. If (god forbid) you broke your leg tomorrow and had to stay in bed for a couple of weeks, your family and your boss and everyone else would find someone else to do the things they need you to do.
- Know that you are valuable whether or not others need you. Your value does not come from what others need from you. You are innately valuable just by being you.
It makes you feel/look important.
While this is similar to feeling needed, this one is different because it deals with perception. Important people are generally busy. If they are well liked or there is much to gain from them, lots of people will want to talk to them.
I always use the example of Taylor Swift or Beyonce. Getting on Taylor Swift or Beyonce’s schedules would probably be pretty hard. Compare this to getting on your coworker’s schedule. They are not Taylor Swift or Beyonce. Their schedule is less hectic.
So the implication is this:
Important people = busy schedules
Not important people = not busy schedules
Therefore filling your schedule up with tons of stuff makes you feel that you are important, busy, have a stunning career, and have tons of friends.
So what can you do?
How to Reverse It
- Realize that you are, and we all are, extremely significant. If you feel that we all can’t be as significant as Taylor Swift and Beyonce, then watch my recent video on why we are all important.
- Know that your schedule is not what makes you important. Your soul is what makes you important. If you want to clear some stuff from your schedule, you can do that. It takes away obligations. It does not take away importance.
It keeps you from thinking unpleasant thoughts.
We all have painful memories from the past or fears of the future that we would rather not ponder. For example:
That embarrassing thing you said in your speech yesterday at the business luncheon
- The horrible fight you had with your spouse last week
- The memory of your mother’s death that, unbeknownst to you, you have kept yourself from grieving by deliberately filling every moment of your schedule
- The fear that your husband will be laid off from his job during the mass layoffs at his company next month
- The fear of your oldest child going off to college next year
Though most people don’t know it, those fears, thoughts, and unpleasant emotions are always there beneath the surface if they have not been properly processed. They don’t go away, they just go into dormancy until there is a clearing in your brain and in your schedule.
So many people have unresolved hurt in their lives, and being busy is one of the best ways to avoid dealing with it. Your conscious mind might not be aware of what is going on, but your subconscious mind is, and it’s doing everything in its power to avoid pain.
How to Reverse It
- Create some time in your schedule to do nothing. As little as 15 minutes is enough to start with.
- Sit down somewhere quiet where you won’t be interrupted.
- Close your eyes and meditate. Do nothing. Just be. (If you’ve never meditated before, check out my recent blog article about meditation to learn how to get started)
- Open your heart. Don’t close off so that you can’t feel anything. Know that whatever thoughts, feelings, or emotions come up, it’s ok. You may start crying for no reason. You may feel like screaming. Go ahead. You are not crazy. Something is just coming up, bubbling to the surface so it’s not stuck inside anymore. That’s ok. Let it happen. There is nothing wrong with it. It will not go on forever, even though it feels like it might, and it does not need herding or controling. If you let it out and experience it, that inner pain you have worked so hard to avoid feeling will stop. Afterwards, you will feel like a weight was lifted from your shoulders.
You Are an Overfunctioner
An overfunctioner is someone who does more than their fair share because they can’t stand when things are not done “properly” or are not done at all. They don’t do the things they do because they enjoy them. They do them because of fear that others won’t do it or won’t do it well.
All of the following are stereotypical overfunctioners:
- A helicopter mom doing everything for her child. As a result, her child never has to learn to do anything (like remember their lunch, tie their shoe, put their toys away, etc.)
- The micromanaging boss who doesn’t trust anyone to get work done or to do it to her standard. Therefore she ends up doing it all herself, leaving nothing left for her subordinates to do and leaving her feeling resentful.
- Your husband who always handles vacation itineraries and directions. You’d be up for doing some of it, but there’s never any planning left to do, so you end up doing less than 20% of it. In the process, your husband keeps getting better and better at it, while you keep getting rustier. The next time you plan a vacation, your husband does all the planning because you aren’t very good at it anyway.
Here’s a chart of what an overfuctioner looks like. The chart shows the simplest version of overfunctioning. Say 2 people are trusted to do a work project. Each person is responsible for 50% of the project. However, the overfunctioner can’t stand the way his partner is doing the work, so he takes over.
Of the 100% of the pie, the overfunctioner takes about 70% of the responsibilities, leaving just 30% left for the other person to do:
If you already can see yourself as an overfunctioner, you might be thinking, “But if I don’t get it done, it won’t get done!” or “The other person is incompetent and can’t do it right, so I am forced to do it.”
Let me ask you this: if you are covering for your coworker by taking all the responsibility for the project, how will your boss ever learn that your coworker lacks the skills for the project? If your boss knows, he can address the problem. If he doesn’t know, he can’t.
“But Anna, if I don’t do this, the project will fail!”
So let it fail. If the project requires you to break your back and develop an ulcer in order for it to succeed, then it shouldn’t succeed. At least it can’t succeed if you stand up for yourself and have some self respect.
“But I’ll lose my job!”
Sounds like you could use a different job. There are thousands of other jobs out there. Get one of them.
Whatever is an overfunctioner to do in this situation?
Here’s my suggestion. The following is what I’ll coin a “healthy functioner”:
In this scenario, you refuse to overstep. You do only your 50%, and no more, no matter how much is left undone (the undone portion is the white portion in the middle in the above graph). This allows you to have some damn peace in your life for once, and it allows the other person the opportunity to learn to do their part of the work.
Whether they are capable and/or willing to do their part of the work is not your problem. Don’t overfunction by worrying about this for them. Don’t steal their growth opportunity. Don’t deprive them of their “rock bottom moment”: these are the moments that change our lives. These moments teach us invaluable lessons, transition us to the right career or the right relationship. Don’t interfere.
How to Reverse it
So how do you give up overfunctioning?
- STOP doing other people’s work for them. No wonder you’re so busy and exhausted! You’re doing all your work, plus other people’s work, too.
- Let the project be imperfect or incomplete if that’s what’s necessary for you to set a boundary and have the less busy schedule that you desire.
- If you’re not sure what “your part” is and what is not “your part,” use this rule of thumb: if you’re feeling resentful for doing it, you’re doing someone else’s job. Stop right there.
- While you’re at it, encourage your coworkers or family members to experience the joy of doing their part, especially if they are grumbling about the work left incomplete. No one is stopping them from doing what’s left undone if it bothers them so much. Don’t berate or nag; encourage and uplift.
These are the main reasons why people are chronically busy, myself included at times. You may think it is the circumstances, but let me tell you:
It is never about the circumstances. It is always about the underlying causes of the circumstances. At least one of the above is likely an underlying causes of your busy-ness.
If you were to remove obligations from your schedule without addressing the above reasons, your schedule would magically get filled with even more obligations. I guarantee it.
Now that you know the underlying reasons, you will remove stuff from your schedule, but nothing new will come and take its place. You will experience real freedom from being a busy-ness martyr.
Now that you know your blocks to clearing up your schedule, you can use the video below to take inventory of your schedule and remove the parts that are not necessary:
Notice if you feel any resistance at any time to clearing something off of your schedule. If you do experience resistance, ask yourself if it’s because of one of the reasons above. Don’t scold yourself. I am aware of these pitfalls and I still catch myself doing them from time to time. It is a journey. It’s not a “one and done” correction. Go easy on yourself.
The good news is that you now have the tools to be less busy and to finally make time for doing the things that you truly want to do, not the things you believe you “have” to do. Now the next time someone asks you, “How are you?” I hope you’ll be able to say, “I’m doing great.” And you’ll mean it.
*In the end, my mom and the choir director convinced me to take the role. I still had time to practice piano and get my homework done.