How to Break Out of the Busy Trap: Waste Time Consciously
You never seem to finish your to-do list. And you often don’t even know what to do first because so many important and urgent tasks compete for your attention.
You’ve tried every productivity app, but your several to do lists keep on growing. You’ve read all the articles on how to get more done. What you have to show for it is feeling busy and trapped.
Let’s take a step back.
The fact is, the busy mindset is an integral part of your personality. It goes way back.
You never saw your parents do nothing. Time was precious and you were taught to make the most of it. There was no sleeping in on Saturdays. The lawn had to be mown, the floor had to be cleaned or the groceries had to be bought before the shop closed for the weekend. Everyone had to be busy all the time, otherwise a sense of uneasiness set in.
Busyness was a measure and expression of your worthiness.
But you left home and, over the years, you have figured that the busy mindset of your parents’ generation was their way of self-justification. We are poor but it’s not our fault – was the basic premise. How could it be? We are busy working hard all the time. We are not like the people who are poor AND lazy. We are a different breed altogether. We just have to work hard a little longer and then we’ll have it good. We are also not like the rich, who got their wealth by stealing from the poor. We are hard working, decent citizens.
That’s the story the working class of post-socialist Central Europe based its identity on and that’s how its members found a reason to get up every morning. And get up damn early too.
You, however, belong to a new generation. You’ve seen through all this.
Your life isn’t about survival. You want to thrive. You want to change the world, because you believe you can and because you believe it badly needs changing. You have a purpose. You’re on a mission.
That’s how you are different. And that’s the story that underpins your busy mindset.
Different story. Same busy trap.
Any time not fully dedicated to your mission is a waste. If you could work on your mission 24/7, you would. You’ve tried… and keep trying, but mother nature slaps you in the face every now and then and tells you to
“GET SOME SLEEP AND TAKE A DAY OFF YOU POMPOUS LITTLE GIT”
in no uncertain terms.
So you take a day off… Your way of course, which means only brainstorming and only responding to a couple of urgent emails and calls. And then doing some housework, shopping or other maintenance stuff because it relaxes you… – you tell yourself.
Look at what you are doing. Do you really think that if you disappeared for a day, the world would come to a standstill? Then why do you act like it?
Take a day off. A proper day off.
In your world that means:
Waste a whole day.
Yes. Do nothing of any use or value for an entire day other than what you need to survive.
Sounds near impossible, doesn’t it?
Have you ever noticed that all other animals take ALL their time off, except for what they absolutely need to do to survive? A pig will eat the food put in front of it and then lay around in its own filth all day.
But why should we aspire for that? We are different. We can change our environment, solve problems, improve things. We have a sense of purpose. This is what makes us better and more advanced as a species – I hear you say.
The good news is you don’t need to take a bath of shit to get the pig’s peace of mind. The bad news is you must get that peace of mind to stay sane. The busy trap is filled with quicksand. The more you struggle to get out, the deeper you sink.
The only way to get out is to stop the struggle. Stop the busyness.
So how do you stop?
Waste time consciously.
Ideally, you’d sit in a room all day with no sensory stimulation whatsoever. Just observing whatever bubbles up from your subconscious, facing your demons and surrendering to reality.
But that will be torture for you. So don’t start with that one.
Go on a hike to the woods. In nature, your mind can be at rest. Only the most primal circuits need to remain active, which can decide whether what you see is a threat or not. Walking around in the city, your mind is at work. Every price tag, shop window and billboard is perceived as a potential deal. Your mind will process and evaluate each one subconsciously whether you want to or not. Also, every person walking by is a potential mate, friend, hire, business partner or enemy. You don’t notice it, but your mind takes it all in and processes all that information. In the city your mind is busy. Waste time in nature, where there is little to judge and evaluate.
No friends this time. Go alone.
You might already be wasting a ton of time watching TV, reading the news etc. you may say. That’s basically giving your mind something to chew on to prevent its underlying anxiety from coming to the surface. It works like charm, but it essentially means that your mind is sedated.
That is a waste, but it’s unconscious. Not what you want.
That kind of waste only pushes you deeper down the busy trap. To break out, you must learn to waste time consciously. And not feel guilty about it.
So no TV, no internet, no phones, no screens of any kind. Unplug yourself for this one day.
Don’t even read a book.
Ideally, you’d go to a lake in the woods and stare at the water all day. That’s how you properly, consciously waste a day.
Keep on wasting a day every once in a while and you might notice some strange things happen. You might catch yourself feeling busy and now having a strange ability to stop that feeling from developing into fully blown anxiety. You might notice that deadlines can be met without stress. And that sometimes they can’t be met at all. And that’s fine too.
You might notice little gaps emerging between you and the roles you assume. Those gaps may seem insignificant at first, but you’ll notice how crucial they are. Those tiny gaps enable you to see that you are not a father/mother, manager, employee, friend, homeowner, citizen etc. But you are not even a male/female named Joe or Jane of a certain age. These are all just labels and roles some of which you feel you took on voluntarily, others have been imposed on you. What definitely is in your power is the ability to not be identified with any of them.
You don’t have to be the average of your roles. To see that, you need to distance yourself from them. That’s only possible outside the busy trap.
If you are not attached to your roles, then you can’t be anxious about what is expected of them either. Once the subliminal anxiety is gone, you’ll be just like that happy pig. Minus the shit of course.
Remember this. Happiness is best defined by the lack of suffering and an overwhelming peace of mind regardless of circumstances. The busy trap is the antidote of that peace of mind. And the way to break out of it is by systematically, consciously wasting time.