“My granddaddy used to say, ‘If the Devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.’ That’s some good Southern preacher wisdom right there.”
— Alli Worthington, Breaking Busy
Maybe that’s why busyness feels so important and so empty at the same time.
The sneaky thing about busyness is that it’s not just about your schedule. It’s an attitude, too. It’s a way of being in the world.
I can cut back on activities and commitments but still have the siren song of busy running through my head. It sounds like: What’s next? What’s next? What’s next? Quieting that down takes practice.
Racing from one thing to another — in my life or in my mind—will keep me forever distracted from the voice that whispers to me about who I am, what I need, and where my worth comes from.
It’s hard to take care of your own soul — let alone your own people, or your own home — when you’re full to the brim on busy.
And just crossing things off the calendar might not be enough. To design a simple life, we have to trade in our busyness for our presence. Here’s why.
1. Presence is the key to breaking the busy-clutter spiral.
Too much stuff creates its own busyness: you have to organize that stuff, clean it, maintain it, keep track of it, replace it, store it. But busyness also creates more stuff.
For one thing, new activities can bring new papers, new supplies, new tools, and even new clothes into your life.
The busier you are, the less time and energy you have for dealing with all that stuff. What starts out as an innocent little stack of envelopes that you intend to deal with “later,” grows into a mountain of mail, pens, and random hockey pucks when your back is turned. And we don’t even play hockey.
More stuff, more busy. More busy, more stuff.
Breaking that spiral takes the courage to be present with yourself, to listen for what you really need and want, and to decide that you’re ready to say no.
2. Busy separates. Presence connects.
Busyness keeps us disconnected and distracted. It keeps us from the stuff that matters most, because we haven’t stopped to decide what that stuff is. Not deciding is its own kind of choice: instead of choosing what matters most, we choose it all! And then we can’t invest ourselves deeply in any of it.
Even as you’re doing more and more things for others (driving carpool, taking on another project, staying late, bringing meals, coaching the team, and on and on), you’re less present for them. Your heart isn’t in any of it, and your mind is jumping ahead to keep all the plates spinning.
Presence means listening to yourself, to see what makes sense for you to contribute. It means listening to your family and your community, to see where real connection is possible. It means choosing some things, not all the things.
3. You can never fully recharge if you’re running at the speed of busy.
In her book Breaking Busy, Alli Worthington writes, “Breaking busy is about more than identifying the things in our life that suck the life out of us. We must also identify what gives us life, what recharges us and restores our capacity.”
Busyness drains you, but stopping the leak isn’t enough to refill your tank. You have to pay attention to discover what nourishes your soul and refreshes your spirit. You have to be present with yourself and for yourself.
That kind of presence is a gift to the people around you, too, because when you know how to really refuel, you have more to offer to everyone else.
You can remove all kinds of things from your home and from your days, but if busy still has a hold on your heart, life isn’t going to feel a whole lot simpler.
It might be time to add something back in. To design a simple life, the one thing your home really needs is your presence.
Recommended: How I Quit Being Busy: Less Busy, More Being
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