Why We’re So Frigging Busy (and What We Can Do About It)

Is it just me, or is life challenging as hell right now? I feel like everyone I know is going through some kind of crisis (or many crises). One of the ways I see this showing up is through busyness, overscheduling and a shitload of extra stress. (Hint: none of which actually help.)

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott

So today, I wanted to share two excellent posts on this topic: one by Mastin Kipp on Daily Love, and this kick-ass essay by Anne Lamott on Sunset (although I happen to think most everything Anne Lamott writes is kick-ass).

In this post, Mastin shows you how to detox your calendar so you can find time in your schedule for the things that really matter (like, cough, your life).

So many of us give away our lives by overscheduling ourselves, and agreeing to all sorts of things we don’t really want to do. When that happens, we give away our lifeblood. We also give away our dreams.

Meaning that that big trip you’ve always wanted to take isn’t going to happen. That book you wanted to write? Ha. All that extra time you were planning to spend with the kids? Gone.

Why does this happen?

Well, it could be because we don’t have clear goals. That’s one reason.

But the bigger reason this usually happens is because we don’t say NO.

When you have a hard time saying no, there’s two deeper emotional issues that we got to work on. The first one is being okay with letting people down from time to time. This is not about being selfish or being rude or being a narcissist. For you to find time for your projects, for what’s important to you, first you got to become okay with letting people down. It’s okay to say no….

The other deeper emotional issue is when you find time and space to work on your projects, usually you’ve been spending so much time focusing on other people that there’s usually unfelt negative emotions inside you that you’ve been running from: powerlessness, fear, guilt, anger, shame. We got to work on those emotions, because ultimately if you want to work on yourself and really become creative and get the relationship and take it to the next level, and get the business and take that to the next level, and exercise, take your body to the next level, you’re going to have to work on yourself.

When you get still and clear your calendar, all those emotions are going to well up, including the emotion of fear: fear is this going to work out, fear that am I enough. Then we get to the real issue, which isn’t time. The real issue is unfelt negative emotions and fear.                                                                                                                      Mastin Kipp

Damn, Mastin! That’s pretty intense, man. But you know what? He’s right.

We run around busy as shit because if we don’t, the damn is going to break and we’re going to fall apart. Staying busy sucks, but at least it’s comfortable. Once we slow down, things can get pretty damn uncomfortable, fast.

I know, I get it! In fact, this crazy running around is exactly what I’ve spent the last month doing. Until I hit a giant motherfucking wall this week, stopping me smack in the middle of my tracks, forcing me to deal with everything I was running from.

(It wasn’t pretty. I’ll tell you more about it in my next post.)

But I’m sharing this story with you because I see so many folks caught up in this same, crazy-making, I’m-so-busy dance. And man, does it suck. If it doesn’t suck now, trust me—it will, one day in the not-so-distant future.

So let me leave you with one last Mastin-ism before we move on to Annie Lamott:

How well you manage unfelt negative emotions and fear will determine the quality of your life. 


This is so, so painful and yet so goddamn true. So much so that I’ve got to insert one other quick idea here before we jump to Annie:

When you don’t follow stay true to yourself, when  you don’t follow your dreams, when you don’t follow the life path that’s right for you, you end up with a deep sadness–or grief. Even though you might not be aware of it, it’s there, somewhere below the surface. But since we’re running so far, so fast, we’ve convinced ourselves that we’ve outrun it.

But it’ll catch up to us. It always does. And when it does, it can be ugly.

In fact, it can be catastrophic. (Hint: this is the kind of stuff that leads to a mid-life crisis or breakdown.)

There is a price in not expressing one’s grief. Imagine if you never washed your clothes or showered. The toxins that your body produces just from everyday living would build up and get really stinky. That is how it is with emotional and spiritual toxins too. What we must remember is that, the more these toxins rise the more we have a tendency to blame or hurt others around us. People never harm others out of joy, they give pain to others because they too are hurt or in pain.      Sobonfu Some

OK, do you get where we’re going with this now? There’s a pretty clear trajectory to this whole thing

  1. Identify your dreams. What is it you want to accomplish in your one, precious life?
  2. Do it. Break it into teeny, tiny steps and take it one step at a time.
  3. Stop the busyness and overscheduling. Stop the numbing! 
  4. If you don’t, you’ll only A.) Make yourself miserable, and B.) Make everyone around you miserable.

If you don’t believe me on this last one, just ask my family. (Eeeejjjahh!)

Now on to Ms. Lamott:

One of the main topics of Lamott’s work is teaching others how to write. But the larger topic behind that is how to live life in general, and how to follow your dreams. Any big dream that’s worth your precious lifeblood and energy, that is.

Here’s what she teaches her students:

I begin with my core belief—and the foundation of almost all wisdom traditions—that there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.

Then I bring up the bad news: You have to make time to do this.

This means you have to grasp that your manic forms of connectivity—cell phone, email, text, Twitter—steal most chances of lasting connection or amazement. That multitasking can argue a wasted life. That a close friendship is worth more than material success.

We all know this, somewhere, deep down inside. Right?

So then why are we so goddamn busy all the time? Why do we spend all this time running around like chickens with our heads cut off?

It’s craziness, my friends, and it’s got to stop.

I know how addictive busyness and mania are. But I ask [my students] whether, if their children grow up to become adults who spend this one precious life in a spin of multitasking, stress, and achievement, and then work out four times a week, will they be pleased that their kids also pursued this kind of whirlwind life?

If not, if they want much more for their kids, lives well spent in hard work and savoring all that is lovely, why are they living this manic way?               Anne Lamott, Sunset 

How’s that for a take-away?

If you don’t like the life you’re living, remember that you’re teaching your kids by example. They’re watching everything (and I do mean everything) you do, and unless you change your lifestyle now, they’re going to grow up to be just as busy, just as overscheduled and just as stressed.

They’ll also be unable to say NO to others so that they can say YES to themselves.

They’ll give their lifeblood away to their company, or their friends, or their children’s school, or anyone who asks, simply because they don’t know any other way.

So show them some other way.

Show yourself another way.

Do this by slowing down and taking the time to reassess and reconfigure. Figure out what the hell really matters to you. Who really matters to you.

And you do that by feeling your feelings. Because even though they’re not always pretty, they’ll always point you in the right direction.

They’ll also point you back to your dream, if you listen.

What was that dream again? To find a more flexible job? To travel the world? Spend more time with your kids? Write a book? What?

Now’s the time, my friends. Now is always the time. 

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
― Mary Oliver


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2 Responses to Why We’re So Frigging Busy (and What We Can Do About It)

  1. Kathleen April 17, 2015 at 8:32 am #

    This year has been my calmest year yet and I am so worried about next fall when I start work because of the busy factor. It is going to be a huge reprioritization of time to make room for all goals, not just the “send our kids to a better school” goal. Always a good reminder! xoxo
    Kathleen recently posted..Remembering TulipMy Profile

    • Tanja April 17, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

      I love how you’re able to stay so present and aware in the midst of so many big changes, Kathleen–it’s one of my favorite things about you and your lovely blog 🙂 I think it helps to be so clear about all your priorities, and bet that will help you weather all those new changes next year. Looking forward to your next round of dispatches! much love, T

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