Keeping Busy vs Being Busy

Yesterday, I took the day off work. I wanted badly to sleep in, to relax, to use it as a true day off. Instead I used it to accomplish all of the things that didn’t get done over the previous two days of the weekend. Christmas prep and household upkeep. Blah.

This morning’s Quest 2017  prompt from  Jocelyn K. Glei has given me pause.

How can you shift your focus from “keeping busy” to “leaving a legacy”?

I don’t ever set out consciously to keep busy. If I could carve out more time to read, to sit under a cat, to lay on the bed and stare at the ceiling daydreaming, I would.  About once a month, I declare a day with nothing on the schedule a “PJ day” where I don’t change out of pajamas all day, don’t leave the house, and don’t do anything at all.

There’s a difference, linguistically and semantically, between keeping busy and being busy.

I teach my team at work how to triage and prioritize. How to boil a workload down to its most essential parts.  I do this prioritization at home and at work. Sometimes – particularly in these weeks leading up to the holidays – the list at its simplest is still very, very long.  I’m not doing busywork. I’m busy working. My focus is rarely on my busyness. It’s often on achieving the steps to reach my next goal.

The distinction between my levels of busyness and the linguistic suggestion that I’m somehow doing that on purpose is where I’m raising my eyebrows. If I am keeping busy, it’s to avoid something. Stillness creates space. Quiet and solitude create the room to think deeper, stiller thoughts. If I’m keeping busy, I’m procrastinating.

Where the rubber meets the road in this prompt is the last phrase. How do I focus on leaving a legacy?  

I can honestly say that I’ve never really considered the idea.

It is true that I’m really quite impressively skilled at experiencing existential angst, but I think existentialism isn’t far from the mark. It’s up to us to be individual, authentic and as real as we can in our daily lives. The wake we leave behind us are the ripples created in a pond of which the pebble thrown is largely unaware.

History will make of me what it will. That’s not my problem.

Many of the other Questers are responding with thoughts of mindfulness and deliberate action. With descriptions of how they check in with themselves carefully. How they keep focus.

How do I stay authentic and busy?

My home to do list is triaged by whether I want to do things (Wanna), whether I absolutely have to do things (Gotta) or whether I should do things (Oughta).  Everything on the Gotta list is a must, and gets the priority. Grocery shopping for the week. Laundry. Paying bills.  Everything on the Oughta list gets very neatly written down and then promptly ignored.  The Wanna list is the real meat of the personal to do pile – often this is where creative stuff and play time enter in.

Often, I don’t write this list down. I just sort of float through a weekend with it in mind. During the Christmas lead-up it’s all mapped out, with gentle reminders to sit the fuck down.

My work to do list is triaged weekly. I delegate whatever I can, table whatever isn’t happening that week, then prioritize based on impact and larger projects from there. Anything that is an Oughta is left on a separate list that I ignore until I want to give an intern a project.

One thing that neither list includes – but that every day includes – is stillness. Quietness. I get up at 5 so I can write before work (that’s also when I read quest prompts). I journal. I read on the train. I walk a little longer to let my body speak its wisdom to me. I cuddle with the cat. I take long baths.

The stillness is how I keep from keeping busy. That legacy business isn’t up to me.








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