I recently noticed in an online dictionary that the word “busyness” (as distinct from “business”) has developed its own definition: “The quality or condition of being busy.” I suppose it has just become universally understood that we are all very busy people. Seemingly regardless of context, vocational, or socioeconomic status – we all have pretty packed, scheduled up lives.
So much so that our language is changing to accommodate our new reality.
When did this happen? I don’t think I am romanticizing the past when I say that I feel like I can clearly remember not being this busy in my childhood, high school life, and even college years. I remember having days with large spaces that were open or weekends where one or both days were not in some way committed. I remember when I could go a day or two without opening my calendar to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. Gosh, I can even remember when I didn’t need a planner because I could simply remember the commitments I made – and look forward to them –without writing them.
It seems to me that our increased busyness tracks directly with technological advances. For instance, I think of the immediacy with which we can connect with each other.
Previously, if I wanted to have some folks over for a evening gathering, I would have called their home or work phone numbers. If they weren’t physically at home or at work, I would have left a message, then waited a day or two for them all to get back to me. All of this I would have had to do a week or more in advance to make sure I could coordinate everyone. In more recent years, I might have done the same over email. But that might have only required a couple of days lead-time to accomplish the same end. Yesterday, I texted folks several hours before we were thinking of gathering, and sure enough everyone arrived at the appointed time and we had a lovely evening together.
While that is a very positive example of how technology has enabled us to connect with one another, it also illustrates some shadow sides to our new capacities.
Technology allows us to do more in less time and to connect with more people over ever-greater distances. But those very significant advantages have correspondingly significant repercussions for our relationship-forming and decision-making capacities.
For instance, because of my ability to connect so efficiently with friends, I put off planning a gathering until the very last day. I recall thinking about the possibility two weeks ago and then again some time last week. Each time I put it off because some other items at work or at home happened to be at hand.
Thinking that there is room for everything – and oftentimes that is legitimately the case thanks to what our technological age facilitates – I prioritize not based on my values but based on efficient use of time. This means that the “what” I do doesn’t necessarily change. What changes is the “how” of doing it.
I once heard it said that being Catholic isn’t just about doing the right thing. It is about doing the right thing for the right reason. I would like to push that a bit further and say we are about doing the right thing, for the right reason, and in the right way. “How” we do things matters deeply.
That is part of the reason I have been looking forward so much to the summer months with the children home from school. It seems like the ideal time to cultivate intentionally choosing away from “busyness.”
My hope is to not only get to be physically at home parenting (the “what”), but also do it in a very specific way (the “how”). I want our days to be routine enough that the children know what to expect from one day to the next — and even be able to look forward to different points in the day. I want the children to feel unhurried. I want them to use both their minds and their bodies during the summer months in a way that feels enjoyable and stimulating — rather than forced or coercive. And I want to participate fully with them in their daily occupations — not just act as a recreational facilitator or activity concierge.
Likely some days will be better than others. But I have a sense that a little bit of unplugging will help create the space to plan accordingly and stay focused on what is most important.