Week 6 – The Myth of Busy

LEADING THROUGH LEARNING

Pictured above are the roses still blooming outside my home. This was right after the rain. Sometimes it is the smallest raindrop that speaks the loudest.

“Hey! How are you?” asks the teacher to her colleague as she walks into school on a Monday morning.

“Good. Busy! But good,” her colleague responds as she unlocks her door. “I know, right? Never enough time in the day, it seems. Have a great day!” the teacher replies, rushing into her own room. She is already thinking about her lesson plans for the day, the papers she almost finished grading over the weekend, and how she forgot that she has morning duty this week. As she grabs her coffee and heads back out her door toward the hallway, she runs into a student going to a club meeting. 

She greets him, “Good morning! Good weekend?” she asks. The student nods and proceeds to tell her how he had a basketball game, then a birthday party, and then went swimming after church. “Sounds busy,” the teacher says to the student. The student nods and heads down the hallway. 

The teacher then arrives at her Monday morning duty station and sees her administrator who greets her warmly and asks how her weekend went. The teacher smiles and says “Good! Never long enough,” she replies. “It’s such a busy time right now! I can hardly believe we are almost through the first quarter of school. Everything just feels so fast.” The administrator nods in agreement. The administrator then asks the teacher if she plans on joining the Beautification Squad as they had talked about earlier in the year. The teacher shakes her head, “I would love to, but I just can’t. I’m too busy right now.” The administrator says, “What else do you have going on? Anything I can help with? I think you would really be an asset to that group.” The teacher remains quiet. “Well, maybe I can join. I don’t know. Let me look at my calendar and I’ll let you know tomorrow.”

“Sounds great! I sure hope you can. You’d be great,” the administrator says. 

I want to point out here that in the above brief exchanges, exchanges you can probably relate to in some way, the implication of rush and busy is a part of each interaction. Busy easily replaces genuine connection with others. It has become a common way of talking about our moments and our days. It can also be an easy way to say “no”without ownership. 

Don’t get me wrong. There is truth to being busy. And in some ways with the speed of communication and information retrieval, we are busier than any other people at any other time. Never have we been able to buy, research, or access information so quickly. And one can appreciate being busy. Busy reflects the many roles educators, humans, often wear-parent, friend, daughter,  caretaker, spouse, coach, mentor, mentee, to name a few. Yet, busy also reflects this culture of speed, implies value in more stuff instead of deeper meaning. Busy does not always mean better.

At some point, we have to stop and breathe. At some point we have to create space in our lives for authentic connection. At some point busy becomes chaos. There is a fine line between the two. 

When we use busy as a reason to say no, more often than not, it means we do not value that request above the responsibilities that currently take up space in our lives. Let’s face it – we all say it! I used this phrase so much that it felt like a greeting to others last year. I would find myself starting conversations about how busy I was as if it were a bad thing.  This would always open a door to simply allow me to complain, or invite complaints from others. I actually think I irritated myself with how often this happened. After reading The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, I became more aware of what I was saying. In this book, she emphasizes the importance of paying attention to our thoughts and our words; because, as we say these things out loud, we are essentially calling more of it into our lives. And sure enough, the more I spoke the words, the busier I felt.  I would acquire more tasks. And, I would really be busy but no better for it. 

In the field of education, we see the collective result of having so many more choices available to us, and for society in general. We see the increase in ADHD diagnosis, anxiety and other issues which students and adults face. Anyone who feels overwhelmed knows that often, it is a result of simply taking on too much without enough time or ability to do these tasks completely and correctly. As a result, we may be a part of more groups, or committees, or clubs or sports or activities, but we are not very successful in any of them. We become jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none. One of two things will happen as we continue at this pace. The first is we start to fumble. We either get physically sick and have to take a step back to heal or we start to make mistakes and miss commitments, do poorly in school or work, or fail those we love most by not following through or being present when needed. I believe there is a simple answer to this problem of “busy”. I believe the answer lies in our focus. 

If we focus on what matters most in our lives, and the major goals we hope to achieve each day, and let these influence all our decisions, what would happen? What if we said “no’ instead of “I’m too busy?”  What if we practiced honesty and vulnerability and stood firmly by our answer without an excuse and without leaving the door open? It would force us to make choices. And those choices would be heard clearly by others. I believe there is a way to communicate this without closing doors but by explaining the reason. We would have to choose what we value and what we don’t. Life is full of choices. We have all heard the saying, “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” So when we claim “too busy” over being honest, then we are allowing ourselves to be asked again and again. At some point, the busy excuse won’t work. And, then we have damaged a relationship, because it will become apparent that we simply don’t want to do that, or don’t value the request/purpose. 

Let’s look at Greg McKeown’s work on essentialism. He points out some obvious facts. The way of the essentialist means “living by design, not by default.” He goes on to explain that essentialism is a way to determine where we want our energy focused. And how, by doing so, means we have to choose wisely. We have to choose to say no to that which does not please us. He also says as a society, we easily fall into this “undisciplined pursuit of more.” And don’t we? If we are not extremely clear about what it is we are seeking or what we are focused on, we are likely to be overwhelmed with many options. How many times have you gone to Walmart with a list of 4 items, and ultimately leave with 15 or more? How many times have you shopped on Amazon only to find your cart full of items you did not set out to buy? How many times have you done a Google search, only to get sidetracked by that pop-up ad? Our society functions with an endless supply of opportunities to be unfocused, simply by the vast choices alone.

I remember a time when information and products were not so easily accessible. And while it may have been a slower way of life, the choices were clearer and easier to make. This idea that we can have it all, do it all, be it all, in reality, means that we function without focus. When we are focused we are aware we can’t have it all, do it all, be it all and this fact is not limiting – in fact it is empowering. We are able to work within the framework of our passion and priorities. What matters most moves from cloudy to clear. We are not limiting our scope, we are choosing our pursuit. It simply means we must recognize the choices and decide what we can say no to in order to commit to our YES. 

Rewind the conversation that began this blog post. 

“Hey! How are you?” asks the teacher to her colleague as she is walking into school on a Monday morning.

“Good. Busy! But good,” her colleague responds as she unlocks her door. 

“I’m glad you had a good weekend. Do anything exciting?” the teacher replies, stopping before walking into her own room. 

“Well, my husband and I went to a Braves game and then we worked on painting the house,” her colleague says. 

The teacher walks through her classroom door thinking about that Braves game. She saw it as well and is debating how to incorporate batting averages into today’s lesson. She remembers she has morning duty this week and heads back out her door toward the hallway, she runs into a student going to a club meeting. 

She greets him, “Good morning! Good weekend?” she asks. The student nods and proceeds to tell her how he had a basketball game, then a birthday party, and then went swimming after church. “Sounds like you had a lot of fun,” the teacher says to the student. The student nods but pauses, and replies, “I did, but I was hoping my brother would come home this weekend from his base but he didn’t.” The teacher looks at the student and says, “I know you must feel sad about that. I’m sure your brother wanted to be with you and your family. I sure do appreciate your brother’s service.” 

The student smiles sadly and says, “Thanks,” and heads on down the hallway. 

The teacher then arrives at her Monday morning duty station thinking about the student and his brother and makes a mental note to say something to the counselor later. Then, she sees her administrator who greets her warmly and asks how her weekend went. The teacher smiles and says, “I had a great weekend,” she replies. “How about you?” The administrator shares she rested most of the weekend and it was pretty low key. The administrator then asks the teacher if she plans on joining the Beautification Squad as they had talked about earlier in the year. The teacher shakes her head, “I would love to, but I really want to stay focused on the new club I am sponsoring this year. We had a great turnout the first meeting, and I’m excited to see what the kids create during this time together.” The administrator says, “I understand and respect your choice. I can’t wait to hear more about this club.” 

Focus. Connection. Honesty. All ways to learn and therefore authentically lead. Hope your week is filled with what matters most to you. I hope the busy becomes the purposeful and the rush becomes the focus.

Published by Elizabeth Ihle

Proud mom. Grateful educator. Adventure seeker. Insatiable reader. Lifelong learner. elizabethihle.com

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