The cult of busyness and giving stuff up

So many of us have become addicted to being busy. It’s like a competition and I absolutely include myself in this.  It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while and Radio 4 recently had a series of programmes from Oliver Burkeman (a favourite writer of mine) about just this topic. I would urge you to have a listen. 

You know how it is. You see a friend and they ask how you are. How many of us answer something like “Oh, yes good, thanks. Well, busy, you know how it is?” And they nod knowingly and regale you with just how busy they are. Have you noticed that no matter how busy you might be, there is always someone who is busier than you and wants to tell you about it. It’s as if our busyness has become a badge of honour. The busier we are, the more value our lives have.  Interestingly, studies quoted in the Oliver Burkeman programme have concluded that people who feel that they are busier than everyone else, are in fact, not. 

Of course, I’m not denying that most of us are busy, juggling home, work and family and many of the things we do, we have to do. We have to eat and live in something better than filth. We have to work and care for our families, but we seem to have become martyrs to our own lives and choices. Like little worker bees scurrying around and not often know why or if it’s what we really want to do. 

If I look at my own life, as I have over the last few months, there are things that we don’t have to do. There are things that we can cut out of our lives that will make us less busy and I am convinced that this is the case for many others too. However, this isn’t blog post preaching to you that you are doing too much and why can’t you just give something up. You probably are and you probably should give something up, but I know it isn’t as easy as that. The things we do in our lives, we choose to do for many different reasons. It may be necessecity or because we want to provide something special for our kids. It could be obligation or sometimes just something we want to do. Just giving these things up isn’t always simple, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider it. 



I recently decided to give up a committee role I had held at school for the past year. It seemed an easy decision to make and in some ways it was. I knew, immediately that it was the right thing for me and that at this time of my life I couldn’t continue this commitment. No, actually, not couldn’t, but didn’t want to and this is where these decisions become difficult. I felt I had to justify myself, to others, but mainly to myself.

 “Oh, I can’t do it, while I still have a toddler at home full time. I can’t do it with the boys moving into Year 1 and Year 3, there’s so much change for them. Oh, I can’t do it with Mckdad’s job taking up so much time……blah blah blah!”

All of these reasons were valid and genuine, but if I had really wanted to carry on, I could’ve. The truth was that I wanted to be less busy. I wanted to be able to use my babysitting favours for doing things in the house, or even more secretly for myself. Even now, I’ve stepped down and someone fantastic has taken over I feel a mix of emotions. I know that making my life less frantic was the right thing to do and the relief at taking a leap and saying no to something feels liberating. However, I still feel guilty, I still feel the fear of missing out (that’s the control freak in me) and I still feel that I am justifying the decision to myself. 

As I write this I have an unexpected toddler free day and because it was unexpected, I had no plans. I can’t remember the last time that happened and straight away I felt that I should feel guilty for that. I thought of the rest of the world beavering away being busy, as I went for a rare and wonderful daytime run. This feels like a huge luxury in this busy world. So much so, that I very nearly combined it with going to check and open my Dad’s post, because multi-tasking makes us all feel more busy, right?  (By the way the radio documentary I mentioned argues that multi-tasking is of no use to us)

I stopped myself though. I ran along the river path instead, for no other reason than it is the route I love.  I am slowly trying to learn that there are no gold medals for busyness and that sometimes we owe it to ourselves to slow everything down. So others may well be busier than me, in fact they probably are, but that’s OK. I am OK with that, or at least I will be one day.  

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5 thoughts on “The cult of busyness and giving stuff up

  1. i can totally relate to this, except I haven’t managed to drop anything yet, even though I know I really should. With children at school there is just always something going on isn’t there?

  2. Wonderful. You are so right. I really think I need to listen to Oliver on radio 4. I spent a year or more saying ‘yes’ to things when we moved to Bristol. In the hope it would create opportunities. After that, I gave up and decided to say ‘no’ more often. I’ve slipped back, not necessarily to agreeing to everything but mostly constantly busy. I continually multitask, combining cooking the dinner with answer emails, for example (Why!). That type of thing. I regularly have to pull myself up and yell “stop”. Cycling (like running , I imagine) has been useful. I can only cycle and on cycle paths it doesn’t take all my concentration. I realised recently (whilst cycling along) that I actually want to do less and need to step back. Re-jig what I’m doing and how much time I’m giving to that. Instead of speeding up and a constant to do list. This post is so welcome. It is the kick I need to step back. thank you.

    1. I wrote about multi-tasking earlier this year. I am terrible for it. I find it so hard to give stuff up just because I want to do less and that’s the pressure to be busy.

  3. I don’t so much give things up, as build myself a rabbit hole to jump down – right in the middle of the mayhem.

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