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I’m so busy Syndrome

An interesting article for ?crazy busy? people, as 2016 will be busier than ever. Wallace Chapman gives good tips about ?un-busying? your life.

The modern ‘I’m so busy’ syndrome and what it really means


There was a time when you had to stay busy to stay alive. Firewood didn’t collect itself. Food did not present itself to you on a pristine supermarket shelf. It ran away from you and it had to be caught before it caught you.

But ask someone how they are in 2016, when, frankly, life should be an absolute doddle, and they’ll probably tell you they are busy.?Crazy busy.

‘I’m too busy’ is such a part of the vernacular now. ‘Want something done? Ask a busy person’.

But busyness has become a glorified state. A badge of honour. The new martyrdom.

There are the poor grafters who have jobs where the expectations are unreasonable or downright unattainable. The expectation is if you’re not busy, you’re not working hard enough.

Everyone knows the pseudo employee who puts on a show of being flat out to earn busy brownie points, hanging back in the office to be the last to leave.

Sometimes the phrase is just a plain and simple brush-off. “Too busy to talk to you, pal.”


Wallace Chapman, television and radio presenter and author of?Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There, reckons the ‘I’m too busy’ syndrome is about status anxiety.

“It’s become a common refrain. If people took a close look at their lives, if they sat down with a piece of paper and charted what they did in a week you could easily take out 15-20 percent of that.”

The reality is that some people are busy out of necessity just trying to make ends meet. But most people who complain of being?so?busy don’t have to be as busy as they think they are, he says.

But there’s an expectation that we should be busy, he says.

“Maybe that stems from the Christian work ethic that has been ingrained in us. But right from kindergarten you are encouraged to be productive, to build things. It’s very subtle but there’s a very powerful force to link productivity with success but people confuse productivity by thinking that they have to work every hour of the day or at least feel they have to.”

The expectation to work crazy hours is a phenomenon that is particularly acute to New Zealand, says Chapman.

“We work longer hours than most countries in the OECD. That’s ironic given that way back in 1840 Samuel Parnell, who sailed into Petone on the Britannia, blazed a trail for the eight hour day.”


Chapman began embracing the ideals of Slow Living 20 years back after being diagnosed with Gaucher’s disease, a blood disorder that affects his bones and vital organs.

Slow Living is a movement that came about following a protest on the Spanish Steps in Rome by locals against a McDonalds opening up. It’s about slowing down and connecting with your life, taking time to linger over food, over friends, over family, savouring our lives.

He says the slow life has captured the way he sees the world. His idea of slow living is taking time to be present every day, making time to have meaningful conversations, making time to listen, to eat with someone at the end of the day.

“I’m a really busy person but I am busy on my own terms.

“I manage it. I always make time to be at home with my wife. I turn off my cellphone and don’t check my emails in the evening. It’s about living in the present.

“We are in an age of information overload. Things are coming at you left, right and centre – television, radio, especially social media. There’s an art in not having to sit on your iphone and dialling through social media.

Sit. Be present.”

Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, suggests that in order to thrive we should not live to work. In her book?Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder,she says there’s no prize for working the most hours per week or making the most money.

At the end of our lives we’re all about the same amount of dust so the question is how much joy you’ve brought into people’s lives and how much have made the world a better place, she writes.


Alistair Hughes, blogger, artist and self-confessed anti-busy man, says the ‘B’ word is lazily bandied around every day as a quick-dry filler for deficiencies in time management, organisation and motivation, or waved like a little flag in attempts to increase a sense of self-importance and so it is fast losing any sense of real meaning.

But it also implies a loss of control, he says, an inability to direct your life and apply your time as well as you might. ?”Worse than that, it’s actually a rather excluding expression, a barrier and cold shoulder to others who would otherwise like to invest their time in you and share your enthusiasm. Instead it’s a brush-off.”

In New Zealand there we have a strong cultural of working hard, and this is reflected in statistics that show we work more hours and take fewer holidays than many other countries, Marc Wilson, associate Dean at Victoria University’s School of Psychology says.

And in 2016 we are busier than ever.


“I think we are busier but I also think we feel busier too. Thanks to our smart phones we are constantly available to be contacted and, more than that, research shows we feel an obligation to keep up to date with what other people are doing. The modern conveniences that we now take for granted – microwaves, cars, etc – haven’t meant we have more time to relax, but freed up time for us to be busy in. Technology makes it easier to do the things that we used to do with more effort, but rather than freeing our time to take a breath we fill the space with yet more toil.

Success and busyness is not a straight line (the busier you are the more successful you are), he says. “The super successful don’t need to be busy, they tend to be organised, focused, efficient, but also have others to do the busy work.”

New York Times?writer Kj Dell’Antonia’s piece entitled?I Refuse to be Busy?was posted all over Facebook when it was published and instigated much discussion on the topic. While she’s far from being idol – she is working a mother of four – she says being busy is a choice and one she refuses to make.

Not for her that endless schedule of activities for herself and her kids. There were hockey games and a few extracurricular activities of course, but there was plenty of down time at home for her kids to create their own games and further their own interests on their own terms without the hectic burden of a time-table.

No one is suggesting there’s anything wrong with a good work ethic. And if you genuinely like being perpetually busy then all power to you. But remember, when you’re about to shuffle off this mortal coil, no one’s going to thank you for all those nights you burned the midnight oil working on that spreadsheet. Or for keeping one eye on your phone while your loved ones try to engage with you. They will remember a person who participated in life. Someone who was present.

Wallace Chapman’s tips on ‘un-busying’ your life:

Make your ‘to do’ list and see if you can strike off anything unnecessary.

Develop your offline persona. Make sure the times that are officially for family are just that.

Don’t default to your iphone for entertainment. Read a book. They are great conversation starters.

When you meet up with someone for a drink or a coffee make sure you give them your whole attention. Make it meaningful.

Listen more, talk less.