When I was a pastor at a church I met a woman who took on the role of secretary for a number of community organisations. She was efficient to the point of efficious. What do I mean? She was viciously efficient. She wrote extremely detailed meeting minutes, which she insisted on turning in handbooks with illustrations, printing and distributing to everyone – not that anyone wanted such a handbook. She went to the zone, area, regional and state meetings of every organisation she joined. She delighted in escalating every small issue from molehills to mountains the size of Everest. It was as though she was desperate to give her life meaning by making herself indispensable. The truth was, she was a poor writer, a terrible minute-taker, and she had no illustration skills, although she could photocopy! I think this woman was addicted to being busy. It was as though she didn’t want to stop and take stock of her life. She just kept herself busy by running (or over-running) community groups.
Australians are addicted to staying busy
I read an excellent article in the Fairfax Press recently, which concluded that people can become addicted to being busy. Melbourne organisational psychologist, Leanne Faraday-Brash is a speaker, executive coach, facilitator and mediator. She told The Sydney Morning Herald, “there is absolutely an addiction to busyness … And there are an increasing number of people who wear their busyness like a badge of honour”. Fairfax Media also produced statistics to show that Australians are addicted to staying occupied. We work 3.2 billion hours of unpaid overtime a year and have 134 million days of accrued annual leave. Also 3.8 million Australian workers report they don't usually take a lunch break, and 7.4 million adult Australians don’t get enough sleep.
Ms Faraday-Brash says online devices like phones and tables mean we can work from anywhere at any time, meaning more people are struggling to step away from work.
“The ability to have stillness in our lives can actually be quite hard,” she told Fairfax Media. “We have constant access to our devices, so even if we’re not working, a lot of people still spend a large chunk of their life in a very wired, over-adrenalised state … There is very little opportunity for any mental downtime.”
Wellbeing and productivity adviser Thea O’Connor told Fairfax that few people are “forced” to work the very long hours they do. It is more that we don’t know who to stop.
Are you ‘rest-resistant’?
Ms O’Connor calls this “rest resistance” – just like the woman I told you about at church. Ms Connor says we make the mistake of defining our self-worth by our value to our employer or we are just desperate to receive praise from our boss and co-workers.
Sometimes it is easier to stay busy than actually stop and face who we have become and where our life is at. That is too frightening, too demanding.
Ms Connor told Fairfax that her clients come to her and complain that they work too hard and have no life, but when she gives them simple advice, like try finishing on time, they say it is too ‘hard’.
“They’re worried they’re not going to get the praise that they used to get for going the extra mile … they see working hard as a measure of success, or they’re worried they’re going to be seen as a ‘slacker'. This is very ingrained for a lot of people,” she said.
Are you hiding from yourself in busyness?
For other people staying busy is easier than confronting their reality. Too often we sacrifice rest because of our addiction to busyness.
“I often ask people when was the last time they had a morning or afternoon tea break and they usually laugh,” Ms Connor says.
Ms Connor believes we would all be in better mental and physical health if we took regular breaks for morning and afternoon tea and lunch. She says elite sportspeople understand the value of rest and quiet.
“Even though they work incredibly hard, they’re also very disciplined about getting enough rest because they know if they don’t, firstly, they won’t perform at their best and secondly, they’ll burn out,” Ms Connor said.
She says all people work better if they stop being busy and rest and recuperate. Have you ever heard of a book called On Quiet by the Australian author Nikki Gemmell? On Quiet is a pocket-sized book about the importance of rest, quiet, stillness and mindfulness in today’s busy world.
Look for Quietism
In On Quiet, Ms Gemmell writes about ‘Quietism’ – a ‘devotional contemplation and abandonment of the will…a calm acceptance of things as they are.’ She argues that we need quiet in this always switched-on world more than ever, and she is right. In today’s electronic mayhem is it actually possible to stop being busy and find inner and external quiet?
Nikki Gemmel suggests making a space for quiet in our lives, and also look for places where we can get close to nature. Nature is peaceful and free of people-made noise. In nature we find a stillness and tranquillity that the modern world does not offer. The Better Reading website said this about the On Quiet book, “The book is full of literary and philosophical references and is as thought-provoking as it is emotionally moving. It holds a mirror up to society, and forces the reader to reflect on why we live the way we do, and the consequences of our fractious lifestyles… If you are looking for advice on how to ‘flick an off switch on the great noise of life,’ then we highly recommend you find a nice, silent corner, cosy up with a cuppa, and give On Quiet a read.”
Sometimes it takes courage to stop being busy. Sometimes you need to confront yourself. If you want strong mental health, I suggest ‘confronting’ yourself every day. I recommend either prayer or meditation. Allow yourself to sit in your thoughts in quiet. Stop hiding from yourself in busyness, and be brave – be with yourself in quiet.