The year before Lydia was born, I worked at a small publishing press which ran out of my boss’ home.
It was, without question, the worst year of my life.
I won’t go into everything here, but I came out of that experience having learned one important thing: I never, ever wanted to live like that man.
The word “ogre” doesn’t do justice to how absolutely miserably my boss was. His presence was toxic, shriveling, vitriolic.
He lived in the wealthiest suburban neighbourhood I’d ever seen: during lunch, I’d take walks along street after street of sprawling brick mansions on postage-stamp-sized lawns, polished by professional landscapers to utter perfection.
But my boss was a mess. His life was crammed full of responsibilities and activities. I came to the conclusion that his life was simply WAY WAY too full. He was too busy. There was no way he could keep up with everything he needed to do. He slept three hours a night, worked while eating lunch. His office was literally toppling over with stuff that needed his attention.
I didn’t want that life for myself.
I decided that I needed to make a commitment to not being busy.
I decided that I was willing to make all kinds of sacrifices to ensure I never became overly busy. I was willing to sacrifice dreams, goals, ambitions, money, status, and material possessions for the cause.
It’s the reason I currently only post twice a week on this blog, realizing that I’ll never become a “successful” blogger at this rate, though I’ve always dreamed of being a professional writer. I don’t care. I don’t want to be overly busy. My health and sanity are too important to me.
Since my time at the publishing press, I’ve continued to give more thought to the issue of busyness. I’ve watched people with packed schedules, and reflected on the lives of busy people I’ve seen throughout my life.
I’ve become more and more convinced of the importance of being not busy.
Here are just a few reasons I am committed to not being busy.
Busy people are less likely to give their time to people in need.
I once read about an experiment done at a seminary where two groups of students were instructed to give presentations. One group was given the topic of the Good Samaritan while the other was given some other topic unrelated to helping others. All of them were made to wait in one building before walking to a second building to give their presentations.
Before they made their way to the second building, half of the students were told they had plenty of time before presenting while the other half was told they needed to hurry or they would be late. Along the path, an actor lay on the ground, looking ill and in need of help. The experimenters predicted that the students who were given the topic of the Good Samaritan would be more likely to help.
Interestingly, there was no correlation between the presentation topic and the likelihood of stopping to help. The real determinant of who helped and who didn’t was how much time they were given: of those who were told they had plenty of time, most offered some kind of help, while almost none of those who were told they needed to hurry stopped to help.
In other words, the people who were in a hurry were much less likely to help the man in need.
(I learned similar things in Psych 101 in university: busy people are less likely to offer help than people who aren’t in a hurry).
The conclusion I drew from this experiment? We need to be less busy if we want to foster compassion and generosity. We need to have the space and time to be able to actually notice the people who need our help, and the flexibility in our schedules to be able to accommodate them.
Hurried people get into more accidents.
When you’re rushing around madly from one thing to the next, you’re not able to concentrate fully on each task. Busy people tend to feel the need to multi-task, resulting in divided attention. (Eating breakfast while driving, anyone?). Being in a rush is dangerous.
Busy people tend not to sleep enough or eat well.
In Western culture, when there are too many things to do, one of the first things to get cut from the to-do list is getting enough sleep. We just don’t value sleep as much as we value accomplishments. As a result, our health and our ability to concentrate suffer.
I’ve made a personal commitment to always get at least six hours of sleep every night (though I strive for around eight); if I ever get less than that in any given night, I’ve committed myself to taking a nap during the day. Sleep is too important to my overall health and well-being. Accomplishments can wait.
Another thing that often gets the axe when people are busy is the time to sit down to a home-cooked meal. We all know the consequences of this omission: westerners are overweight and suffer from heart disease, diabetes, and ADD. So again, I’ve made regular, home-cooked meals a priority over getting other stuff done.
Hurried people yell more.
I’ve seen this too much. When parents are in a hurry, they snap at their kids. When employers are under pressure, they holler at their employees.
I don’t want to be a yelling parent. So I’m keeping my schedule as empty as possible.
Busy people are no fun to be around.
Basically, for all of the reasons above: they tend to be anxious, sleep-deprived, and irritable. Busy people have no time for relaxation and play, so they don’t understand why you should.
I don’t want to be an ogre. So I avoid over-scheduling.
Busy children have a hard time identifying their true loves and passions.
I want my children to have time to be bored — to explore, invent, imagine, and play. And they won’t be able to do those things if I fill their lives with lessons, activities, and extracurriculars. So I want to encourage a slower pace for everyone. I might enroll Lydia in one or two things as she gets older — voice lessons, maybe, or a swimming or dance, depending on her interests — but I won’t hesitate to cut back if they put a strain on our daily rhythms.
Busy families are wasteful.
When everyone is dashing from one activity to the next, no one has time to wash piles of dishes or launder loads of cloth diapers or fold stacks of cloth napkins. Disposable consumer products become essential to the busy household: paper towels, disposable baby wipes (in disposable containers), individual-sized yogurt cups, styrofoam takeout dishes . . . the list goes on.
A commitment to sustainability, then, requires a commitment to keeping an emptier schedule, where there’s room to wash, scrub, fold, and reuse.
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So those are just a few reasons I’m committed to a more relaxed schedule.
Am I missing anything?
Photo by Helga Weber.