Treading Water

Productivity tips and tricks abound, but there is one bit of advice that you should pay particular attention to and you could see a drastic change in the way you look at your life and the amount you are able to accomplish. Although it’s not easy at first and it will take some practice before it becomes habit (or you rid yourself of the old habit), it does not require special training or a $2,000 certificate. Everyone can actually do it, but few will ever try.

But enough preamble. Here it is, “the one ridiculously simple trick that will change your life”: stop talking about how busy you are. No one cares. Everyone you’re telling is probably equally as busy and likely believes they are busier. That’s not to say no one cares about you. They do. They care about how you are. They care about what you’re doing with your life. They care about your happiness. But they do not particularly want to hear about your level of busyness. And no those things are not inextricable.

In western culture we have become obsessed with trying to communicate how busy we are with anyone and everyone who comes within earshot. And because everyone else is doing it, we feel compelled to play along. When someone asks how we’re doing, custom dictates that we respond with rolling eyes and exasperation with how out of control our lives are. The fear being that if you provide a more positive response—one that portrays someone who is actually in control of life—there will be a presumption that you just aren’t doing enough. Others will think, we worry, that if you are not expressing anxiety and frustration with life, you’re not doing your part.

It’s our impulse to talk about busyness because we are desperate to appear relevant. That’s what we want most. And being busy can be good. We should all be busy contributing in a meaningful way, but we’ve bungled the concept. We’ve confused quality with quantity, and allowed busy to devour meaning.

We should be in control of how busy we are. A life out of control should not be our objective. Taking on so much that it puts us off-balance and at a disadvantage is not what anyone should be after. Yet that is precisely what we are promoting. And what better way to manifest or perpetuate the problem than to constantly pay obeisance to it.

All this talk of busyness and uncontrollable lives is, of course, a farce. Being overly busy does not mean optimal contribution. On the contrary, if you are expressing that you have too much to do and that you are unable to curb that burden, what you are communicating is that you are not realizing your fullest potential. This is the great Pandemonium Paradox. We are eager to take on more than we can handle (or at least give the impression that we’re doing more than we handle) and the consequence is an utterly ineffective, unproductive, and unhappy society.

We all go through times when we are in over our heads, and some life paths are not of our choosing. There are without a doubt things in life that are not within our control. Crisis and tragedy will befall us all at some point. No matter how much positivity mojo we try to pour over it, that is—as they say—life. But we can recover and our best shot at recovery and contributing in a meaningful way is by controlling what is within our ability to control. And part of that means owning up to what we are capable of and contributing at a level that is best for ourselves and the world around us.

The next time someone asks how you’re doing or what you’re up to, give an answer that’s better than busy. You’re more interesting than that. The person or people may be caught off guard when you break from tradition, and perhaps they will judge you a bit, but they’ll get over it and they may even learn a lesson. You will also begin the journey that is free from the Pandemonium Paradox, where you are in control and contributing meaningfully to the best of your ability.

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