Tag Archives: Work

On Being Busy

According to Merriam-Webster, my dictionary of choice since reading Kory Stamper‘s clever, hilarious Word by Word, the word “busy” has five definitions:

1a. engaged in action
1b. being in use
2. full of activity
3. foolishly or intrusively active
4. full of distracting detail

At my school, there’s an obsession with being busy. People are constantly talking about how busy they are and that they’re busy all the time. Yes, there’s a lot going on. Yes, we are pulled in multiple directions. Yes, sometimes lunch is skipped or rushed or postponed until later. Yes, many people come in early, stay late, and work weekends. Busy. Sure.

But there are also periods of the year or even times of the week that are less busy. There are times when we sit around and chat, times when lunch is leisurely, times when a few people take it upon themselves to decorate the department office. There are times when we check personal email, read the news, scroll through Facebook, or even write blog posts. Not as busy.

In many ways, I think claiming that we’re busy is an excuse. It gives us something to hide behind when we’re tired, when we don’t want to move onto the next thing, when we’re overwhelmed for some other reason. It gives us an instant connection with others while simultaneously absolving us (or so we think) for being unfriendly or impolite. After all, we’re in a rush. We’re busy.

I don’t quite buy that. As one of my colleagues says, “We wear busy as a badge – and we need to stop.”

For many people I work with, being busy seems like a goal. To those people, if you’re clearly working harder than others, that says something about you. If you’re not busy, you’re clearly not contributing as much as the next person. Being busy gives a purpose to the work being done and therefore meaning to your job. And to be clear, I’m not talking about people who are legitimately working steadily for long periods of time. I’m talking about people who are “always busy” . . . but never seem to do anything important or always seem behind.

Claiming that we’re busy is also sometimes a way of avoiding the things that we actually have to do, or things we know we should do but aren’t quite ready to face. It’s easy to make excuses when we’re “already busy” doing something else, which only makes it more challenging to do the things we need to do. And because “I’m busy” is an excuse our society has decided is acceptable, we give ourselves excuses to procrastinate (which is something we decry for different reasons, funnily enough). We can avoid doing things we don’t want to do because we’re busy, which only makes them harder when we can’t avoid them anymore.

I know several people, and I’m sure you can think of a few, who use being busy as an excuse to avoid difficult conversations. We can avoid asking others how they are. We can avoid addressing problems that have come up in our relationships. We tell ourselves, and perhaps also tell others, that everything will settle back down when we’re not so busy and besides, we’re too busy right now to deal with that. These excuses become patterns. They become the behavior itself. They act as barriers to things that really matter and they can be harmful.

We don’t have to be so busy.

We also don’t have to claim that we’re so busy. Because much of the time, we’re probably not. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We don’t actually like, being busy – remember?

We can choose differently, as Leo Babauta writes on his excellent blog zen habits. We can choose to slow down, to simplify, to cultivate a sense of contentment. While I encourage a read of the whole post, these are they key ideas of what he says:

Slowing down is about pausing in the middle of the rush. Taking a breath. Creating a little space. Reflecting on what we’re doing. Finding a little mindfulness, being present with our bodies, breath and surroundings. . . .

This is what it means to simplify. Picking one thing (even if it’s just answering one of those emails that have been sitting in your inbox for a week), and then letting go of everything else. Letting this one thing be enough, for right now. Letting it be everything. . . .

What does it mean for this “one thing” to be enough? It means acknowledging that it’s impossible to do everything on your list, impossible to get everything done. So you have to focus on one thing, and let that be enough.

These are alternatives to being busy that I think are valuable, energizing, and far healthier than just rushing from this thing to the next thing and back again.

Slowing down is what lets us experience our lives rather than just letting them pass by.

Simplifying is what allows us to prioritize and do one thing well instead of several things poorly.

Cultivating a sense of contentment is being satisfied with accomplishing the one thing.

Wouldn’t that be better?

Starrucca, Pennsylvania – September 2016


When I was in college, I went to a Coldplay concert with a group of friends. I can still feel the electricity of that night, and I still get chills when I hear certain songs. At the end of the night, after releasing a cloud of butterflies, Coldplay passed out CDs with the title LeftRightLeftRight. I didn’t understand the title at the time; after all, the album was a recording of one evening on the Viva La Vida Tour, which is what I had just paid to see. Over the past week, however, I started to wonder if the title could be a nod to creativity, and to the importance of stepping out of the boxes in which we put ourselves, in order to look for something more.

I have to give my friend Mary credit for providing the impetus for me to explore creativity this week. I don’t consider myself a creative personal at all. I’ve always wanted to be, but I am (regrettably) a perfectionist in much of what I do. In terms of the IB Learner Profile, I am not much of a risk taker. Call it a personality flaw.

Source: http://blogs.osc-ib.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/IB-Learner-profile-diagram.jpg

School on the brain at all times, right?

Anyway, I reached out to Mary and another friend, Ally, earlier this week to share with them how alone and afraid I’ve been feeling. I’ve written about it before – the difficulty of finding a new job, the challenges of moving, and just trying to do as much as I can before I leave here. I’ve been feeling quite lost in the choices that I’ve made and continue to make, both in terms of employment and my personal life. Like many women in doubt, especially across oceans, I reached out to my girlfriends. I’ve known Ally since the first day of high school, which is still one of the most frightening experiences I’ve had. I went from a K-8 school of 120 kids in one town to a high school with 1,000 kids in another town. A couple weeks late, I met Mary and she introduced me to rest of the people who became my core group for the duration of my high school career. The rest, as they say, is history.

In their remarkably quick replies to a very long, rambling, I-am-crying-out-for-help-please-help-me email, both women were thoughtful, caring, supportive, and compassionate in everything they wrote and in the subsequent actions that they took. It is no surprise that I was sleeping better towards the end of this week than I have in the past month.

In the course of her response, Mary shared an interesting activity that she came across, presumably online. To paraphrase, Mary told me to ask myself an open-ended question and write the answer with my dominant hand and then my other hand. She had used ,”What animal best describes me?” in her example (quite possibly from this blog) and the two animals that she came up with beautifully capture two very different aspects of her personality. Seeing this, I gave it a try with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My dominant hand told me teacher, which I expected. As I picked up the pen in my other hand, I felt a huge smile on my face because I knew exactly what I was going to write. In the awkward letters of one who is not ambidextrous but trying to be, the word writer appeared.

And I knew it would.

The second my pen left my dominant hand, which is really the only place it ever spends any time (and quite a lot of time as I work on grading the 51 grade nine essays I got on Wednesday), I literally felt a different part of my brain activate. As a teacher of psychology, I was not entirely that this happened but I was fascinated. I found this interview with a researcher also mentioned in this article to simply explain how to activate cognitive processing in a different hemisphere than normal. Have a quick read if you’re interested, or ask the different hemispheres of your brain a question.

So I wonder if that’s what Coldplay meant with that album title. I wonder if they were reflecting on their own creativity or encouraging others to literally try another hand.

I generally have a lot of questions and, “Now what?” is a question that I ask myself every time I send out another cover letter or resume or file another “thank you for your submission” email. It’s a question I ask myself whenever I read position descriptions for jobs I should be qualified for when, in the back of my mind, I know I’m not who schools want (to be explored in another blog post at a later date). It’s something I wonder when people ask me if I’m excited to move to NYC or if I’m sorry to leave Singapore.

The difficulty is that I am not patient, I am not comfortable with uncertainty, and I am trying very hard to be both. My dominant hand says “keep trying” and I am afraid to ask my other hand.

Les photos

I’ve been doing a lot of Duolingo French lately, just for fun and for practice. I honestly miss taking classes and learning new things.

Anyway, I just wanted to share with you some photos from the past week (mainly weekend). Enjoy!

The sunrise early last week
The sunrise early last week

Having a balcony has been a great improvement in my lifestyle. Leisurely morning cups of coffee and phone conversations with my mum put me in a clam, centered place to begin the day.

Things like relaxing morning and the unexpectedness of the two photos below help me remember to keep sight of the little things in life:

The sandwiches may be fresh and hot . . . someone will have to let me know because I'm not brave enough to find out!
The sandwiches may be fresh and hot . . . someone will have to let me know because I’m not brave enough to find out!
Nothing like planning ahead - good work, Singapore. Worse comes to worse, you finish early and surprise everyone!
Nothing like planning ahead – good work, Singapore. Worse comes to worse, you finish early and surprise everyone!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Along with having a lovely visit with Mitch’s mum in Singapore, I spent some time exploring the Tanjong Pagar neighborhood, which is probably my favorite. It’s full of small businesses, coffee shops, cafes, restaurants, Korean bars, boutiques selling wedding attire, an amazing bookstore, and numerous asset managers.

Merci pour votre temps!