The Importance of Busy-ness

*Dedicated to myself first and foremost, because I need this reminder more than anyone else. I hope you, the reader, will still find benefit in this.

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Say, [O Muhammad], “Shall we [believers] inform you of the greatest losers as to [their] deeds?

[They are] those whose effort is lost in worldly life, while they think that they are doing well in work.” (18:103-104)

How many people do you see with their heads lowered almost permanently to their smart phones, forever texting away because they have so much to say and so many people to say it to? How many people feel they are important simply on the basis that their free time is somewhat limited?

What’s the problem with that, you may ask?

There are a lot of issues with that state of thinking, but common side effects include: Egos are inflated, heads are swollen, and it’s a lose-lose situation for all because no one is “not busy” enough to make time for others.

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I’ve blogged ever so briefly about the above verses once. I was an undergrad student then and a member of a few extracurricular student initiatives. My hands were full, and boy, did I and everyone else know it.

Now, two years later, I find myself living a very different life, yet nonetheless relentlessly busy. I’m juggling different responsibilities and commitments that range from teaching to volunteering in both religious and non-religious non-profit initiatives. I am trying my best to be the best daughter and sister I can be, while reading books and attending lectures and unique events whenever I can. I find myself offering to do this and that before really processing if I have the time for it – it’s a weakness of mine to simply say ‘no’ (but I’m getting better at it). In any case, when all’s said and done, all I can attest to with complete confidence is that I am a very busy person these days.

In fact, I am so busy that I am writing this blog post with guilt; there are quite a few to-do items on my to-do list, but I’ve decided that I really need to get this out my system now. I’m a meticulous planner but when I want to write a spontaneous blog post, like now, it simply happens without a second thought (and that’s not always a good thing, by the way.)

Yes, I’m busy. That b-word, used in response to “how are things” of “oh, I’m good – just busy” no longer has the same satisfying ring it used to have with me. Once upon a time, to claim I was “busy” smugly implied to my lower self that I was out there doing important work; that my time was being well-spent, and that surely I was on the right track.

But is busy really an accurate measure of meaningfulness? Is productive busy-ness even a measurable factor? Is it important to be busy? How many of us claim to be busy yet aren’t doing very important work at all? What’s important and what’s not? Does important work have to keep one busy? Are they correlated at all?

With these questions swimming in my head ever since I graduated, I thought it was about time to address them. Needless to say, I am not an expert, but I’ve formed an opinion of some sort:

No.

Being busy is not important.

Being important does not mean you must be busy.

However, often you can be both; or you could be only one and fool yourself that you are both.

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I find myself lately trying my best to no longer reply with “I’m busy” to an “how have you been” question. When it slips, I cringe inside, because… well… So what if I’m busy? Who isn’t? Why is this news? Why is this important? Rather than replying with those two vague words to give off a sense of complex endeavors, why can’t we be frank with each other and just specify what it is that has been filling up our times?

“Busy”. What does that mean now? And so what?

Either way, for some slightly twisted reason, many of us feel it’s a form of empowerment to confess we are powerless to control our time. We take pride in saying we’re overwhelmed with life because it sounds like we’re making the most of ours. Are you ever really overwhelmed such that you can’t make time for what is truly meaningful to you?

Since writing about what I termed “the snowball metaphor” last year, I’ve gotten much better at making time for what matters. Some things have changed since then, but one thing has not.

I am still always busy.

The major difference now is that I’m constantly asking myself if what I’m busy with is really important. This is a question I repeat to myself over and over again. Unfortunately, sometimes I find myself too busy to even answer myself.

When I do take the time to self-reflect, I am often positive that I fill my time with meaningful work. Yet now and then, I run into amazing people who don’t seem as busy as I – and if they are, they don’t wave the fact in the air like a flag – and I am always astounded as to how much more of life they are obviously getting out of it.

I mean, where do they have the time to do this and that? How can so-and-so be doing this project and still manage to do factors A, B and C, all with complete ease? How come Person X looks so ordinary yet is doing extraordinary work modestly hidden only behind Person X’s humility in character?

I still have a lot to learn.

Something I have learnt, though, is that by no means should busy be synonymous with importance.

And Allah knows best.

A.S.

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2 comments on “The Importance of Busy-ness

  1. I like this post, and can totally relate! Another thing I ponder about is whether this “busy-ness” is even productive at all? I feel like I am doing so much, but is it actually beneficial? Is there any good coming out of it?

    I also come across different types of people. 1) Those who seem more busy than you, and you wonder if they are actually achieving more than you? They may look busy, but are they really making progress? 2) Then you have those people who don’t seem to be doing much at all – not busy – just relaxing and living life free. Some of us may think they are lazy and not being productive at all. But maybe we should strive to be more like them and make time for other activities.

    Most importantly, I don’t think we should ever be busy when it comes to family and close friends. There should always be a time (and we should always make the time) for those who are important to us.

    In addition, this article piece I recently read reminded me of this post: http://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/cure-for-feeling-overwhelmed-is-to-stop-talking-about-it.html?cid=readmore

    • That was a GREAT article! Thanks for sharing!

      I agree, a lot of busy people are not necessarily making their or others’ lives more meaningful, and some very laid-back folks are getting more out of life. The balance I’m reaching for is not unattainable, because I know quite a few people with the ability to HAVE time for friends, family, personal projects – all the while excelling in their academic and career fields and being a part of a million groups at the same time. I want to be able to do important work without being busy. Or, at the very least, being busy DOING stuff that matters without being overwhelmed.

      In either case, as the article suggests, if we could only stop boasting of our busyness, maybe we’d be putting our energy into more useful conversation that can actually pull us out of it!

      Take care!
      -Aya

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