multitaskingSorry, I’m So Busy . . .

By Dr. Mara Adelman, Ph.D.

Hyper schedules, time compression, multi-tasking–it’s everywhere.  What’s more, “I’m so busy” is our favorite excuse.  “Oh, you were hospitalized…leg amputated…sorry, I was so busy.”  “Your mom was sick…died?  Sorry, I was so busy.”  “I missed a dinner just for me?  Two days cooking?  Sorry, I was so busy…”

Being busy has gone beyond cliché; it’s graduated to lifestyle status.  We even excuse rudeness, arrogance, and even betrayal because we’re all so busy. When people tell us how busy they are, our inclination is to be complicit in such thoughtlessness—after all, they are very busy people and therefore very important.  We often respond, “Yes, I know” or “Wow, busy, so true.”  Yes, part of us is miffed, but we see ourselves in their excuses.  A minute later, we could be using the same excuse.

When my students see my planning calendar (the old paper calendars), filled with scribbles, they assume I’m so busy.  They often reply, “Oh, you’re probably too busy to meet.”  Or with awe, “Wow, you’re really busy!”  I then tell them my calendar or my “to do” lists, and all the scribbles are very mundane reminders, not appointments or fabulous events.  Pick-up shoes, pay taxes, get milk, etc.

But then I wonder, what if my calendar was blank? They would probably think I was a loser.  After all, having a full schedule makes one appear very important.  Furthermore, it is even more important is to tell everyone just how busy you are.  After a year’s silence due to travel plans on both our sides, I wrote a dear colleague a long note, wishing her well and hoping to hear from her.  I got a 6-month-old “travelogue” and a quick note, “I’m so busy, but here is my busy life…”

I marvel at the detail in which people document the minutia of everyday life. It’s like the halfalogues of cell phone conversations, “I’m getting off the plane.  Now I’m walking to baggage claim.  Just   had a drink of water…etc.”  You know what I mean, the “nonversations” of endless, meaningless details.

Even if we’re not legitimately busy, we create busyness through the mundane.   At the gym, while treadmilling away, a couple talk about their busy workouts.  As one of them walks away, they coo, “10 more reps on the upper” “Need another 1.5 miles” “See you after my cardio and stretch” “Ok, just let my finish my quadriceps squats and I’ll meet you outside…”  I used to eavesdrop a lot, but not anymore.  The quality of conversations doesn’t warrant such voyeurism.

A woman I recently met, confessed that after a lovely quiet weekend, she went to work and told her co-workers, “I did nothing this weekend!”  People looked at her askance, bemused, and befuddled.   She had just interrupted the long-standing ritual of telling everyone how busy you were over the weekend.  How dare she?

We live busy lives; real or manufactured.  We’re becoming a collage of experiences, fragmented memories, and surface sound bites.   Rarely are we a painting filled with profound and nuanced shades or vibrant colors reflecting in-depth exchanges.   During conversations, when people make you wait as they answer their text or phone, we realize we’ve become pauseable, disposable, deleteable, and easily relegated in our busy, compressed, multi-tasking lives.  Today, “smell the roses” is an anathema.  The roses are plucked or pixilated.

dr mara adelman About the author: Dr. Mara Adelman is an Associate Professor with the Seattle University Dept. of Communication. Her website contains curriculum materials, workshop/lectures, resources that were developed for her course entitled, “Restorative Solitude.”

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