BY Nicole Phillips

Please kindly slap me next time I tell you I’m crazy busy. You’ll be doing my overinflated ego a big favour.

Downtown Abbey continually makes me question the period in which I was born. Besides those spiffy hats and posh accents, my latest bout of 1920s Britain FOMO comes from the aristocrat notion of leisure as a symbol of status. The Crawley’s are super important and don’t need to work. At a dapper dining affair, Dowager Countess (the eternally graceful Maggie Smith) delivers a classic zinger “what is a weekend?” – unaware of the notion of a 5-day working week. How far we’ve come.

Nowadays, there is a narcissistic (and potentially sadistic) pleasure associated with being too busy to remember to breathe. We coordinate our apple calendars in shades of orange, blue and fuchsia because loud colours scream importance. We say things like “I can fit you in on Wednesday” and talk about our weekend by rattling off lists of places we went and people we saw and hours of the night we stayed out till.

Welcome to the cult of busy. 

Just like the endorphins that are set off by a like on our Instagram, we are addicted to the ego boost of a chockablocked schedule. We wear our busyness like a badge of honour, a status symbol of our full and significant lives. Studies at George Town university found that a busy person is perceived as more competent and ambitious, as well as more scarce in demand.

You need only look at the strange form of social currency in the young corporate workforce for proof. Points are earned for complaining about eating at your desk and working until 10pm on an FW:URGENT task. We cast our eyes down on the unaspiring millennial, working crappy jobs in the winter and blowing it on Eurotrips in the summer because a life of leisure = failure and laziness.

I recently started my last semester of university and made the decision to cut back on work hours to focus on my studies. Glaring at my very manageable timetable on the first day back, I launched into a panicked frenzy about how I would exist with SO MUCH spare time (if only I lived in Downtown Abbey!?)

The paradox herein lies – we simultaneously feel both fulfilled by and resentful of our busy lives. So what is this dual anxiety associated with being either too busy or too idle. And are we ever really able to find a happy medium?

University of Houston professor Brené Brown writes that, “one of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call ‘crazy-busy.’” She says that the need to be busy is a symptom of our fear of slowing down and confronting the truth of our own lives; that we are perhaps unfulfilled in our careers, disconnected from our relationships or utterly freaked out about the trajectory of our future.

I am jealous of my dog’s ability to chill. As I rush out the door, spilling coffee on my pants for the third time this week, I pause and envy her cushy Cavoodle life. She’s slightly overweight, but she’s not obsessed with fitting gym into her schedule. She always wears the same pink collar, but doesn’t feel the gaping hole in her wardrobe from a lack of time to shop. She snores on my pillow in exactly the same position day in and day out and never feels the pressure to buff up her CV with work experience, good grades and co-curricular activities (unless barking counts?). As long as she receives love, shelter and a few too many Eukanuba dog biscuits, she’s content.

Obviously without more stimulation than a squeaky toy, humans would lead a pretty mundane existence. But there’s also a lesson to be learnt from my furry friend.

Busyness as a measure of self-worth zooms in on the quantity, rather than quality of activity. We must learn to slow down and fill our time with the important things. Get rid of busyness for the sake of it and do the things you love. My favourite TV doctor and life guru, John Dorian, learns this lesson from a sage old lady with renal failure in the first season of Scrubs. After coming to terms with the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death, he monologues about the importance of slowing down…"even if it's just taking time to lie on the grass and think about all the things you have left to do," (is there anything that show didn’t teach us?).

So, next time you answer the question, “how are you” with “crazy busy”, remind yourself to get off your high horse and realise the value in taking an afternoon off to do something totally unproductive. This may just be the most productive thing you do all day.

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