Updated: Oct 27
I recently wrote a blog about emotional exhaustion. This comes about when our mind, body, and soul are worn out. The cause of this could be many such as the loss of a loved one, worrying about the future, or working in a job you hate. One of the behaviors you might resort to when avoiding facing the emotions triggered by these events is becoming busy.
Busyness is something most of us are trapped in today’s society. Our jobs often entail hours of work tasks that need to be done in a working day that often extends beyond closing time. The demands of our family keep us on our toes, and even our weekends are taken up with being busy.
But, what happens when you get trapped in the state of being busy all the time? Let’s talk about busyness and how to master the art of doing nothing when you feel drained from being busy all the time.
What is Busyness?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines busyness as “a busy quality or state” or “the state of having or being involved in many activities.” While, in essence, busyness can be a good state to be in, it depends on WHY you need to keep busy all the time.
I’m guilty of busyness. When I feel overwhelmed, uncertain, fearful, or directionless, I start to create lists. Hundreds of them! One would be a list of all the things I feel need to be done in the house. Another would be a list of all the action steps I need to take to build my business.
And, there’s always a list of people I need to meet for coffee, have over for lunch, or see my doctor for a check-up.
Lists make me feel I’m in control when everything around me seems to be falling apart. And, they ensure I’m kept busy ALL the time so I don’t need to face the real problem – my fears or dreaded emotions such as sorrow, anger, or guilt. But, all of this busyness eventually leads to emotional exhaustion or burnout.
The Busyness of Life: Does it Serve You?
Does being busy make you feel purposeful? Does busyness give your life some meaning even if you’re slowly burning yourself out? Many of us turn to busyness to fulfill an emptiness within us. It also fills up endless hours when we don’t know what else to do with ourselves.
How often do you tick off things on your list only to fill it up again because the thought of having nothing on your list makes you feel anxious? Hands up if you equate busyness to being successful in your career. And, how about being seen as the perfect social butterfly because you’re always busy “flittering” around keeping everyone entertained?
Busyness has its place in our lives, but when it consumes you to the extent that you start to feel drained and weary of life, you need to evaluate what’s happening in your life. Consider the following scenarios that describe different states of being busy and identify if you fit into any of them:
Overworking at the office: People resort to overworking when they’re not feeling on top of their job OR they’re avoiding an unpleasant situation back at home such as an unhappy partner. Another reason for overworking could be a shortage of employees and your boss expecting you to take on more work than you signed up for.
Lack of proper time management: When someone doesn’t know how to implement proper time management, they’re always running from one task to another. They’re often flustered and the job is never completed properly or on time. Poor time management is often an excuse for not achieving something or for avoiding doing something out of fear of failing. When you don’t manage your time effectively, you always look “busy” simply because you’re trying to keep on top of things.
Ambitious: A state of busyness is apparent around many ambitious people who believe that if they look busy all the time, they’re hard workers. These people create the image of always doing one project or another and that work is the most important thing to them. This type of person could believe that if they’re not always doing something, they’re not ambitious enough.
Always socializing or exercising: if you’re not working, you’re socializing. People who head off to the pub or club after a long day at the office and socialize until midnight, look like they’re always busy. And, when it comes to the weekend they make sure their social diary is full of meeting people for breakfast, running in a marathon, or doing a twenty-mile cycle challenge. If you’re one of these people, you have to ask yourself. “Why am I always SO busy on weekends?”
Creating lists: People who draw up lists and more lists are finding ways to keep themselves busy. Lists are great for getting essential tasks done and for prioritization. But, when you have numerous lists on your wall covering all aspects of your life, you need to ask yourself WHY. One list should be all you need and when that list has been ticked off, then you can create another one. And, every task listed should be meaningful with a purpose in mind.
For many people, the busyness of life means their days are not trivial or meaningless. And, while it’s essential to know your life has meaning, it’s vital to identify activities that are truly meaningful. Otherwise, you’re heading one way only and that’s down the path of emotional exhaustion.
What to Do When Busyness Leads to Burnout
Meaningless busyness is soul-destroying. It eventually leads to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual burnout. You no longer feel connected with anyone or anything. The tasks you’ve been doing every day to keep busy, no longer hold any significance. Life seems pointless and you’re no longer able to see the bigger picture.
It’s essential to manage busyness if you want to avoid emotional exhaustion. And one of the ways to do this is to master the art of doing nothing! When you learn to do nothing, you’ve given yourself a technique for managing your stress and anxiety. The art of doing nothing gives you permission to slow down, be kind to yourself, and restore your mind, body, and soul.
What is the Art of Doing Nothing?
Before you start to panic, the art of doing nothing doesn’t mean you have to suddenly stop being ambitious, no longer socialize, or walk out on the project team while working on a tight deadline. The art of doing nothing is including time in your day to simply sit back and be present. It’s also about finding a work-life balance that works for you.
And, it’s about NOT avoiding the loss, the anger, or the guilt.
The art of doing nothing is a form of relaxation or idleness that’s necessary if you want to avoid feeling drained at the end of every day. It’s about doing what matters to you while still doing what has to be done. And, when you master the art of doing nothing, you’ll find it easier to manage your state of busyness, in a healthier and more meaningful way.
When you’re doing nothing, it doesn’t have to mean you’re twiddling your thumbs, waiting for the time to pass. Though, if you can do that for 10 minutes every day you might find it quite a mindful exercise!
But, the art of doing nothing is about doing activities that calm you and relax your mind while bringing you a sense of peace and joy.
Watch this wonderful video which talks about why it's essential to find time to do nothing.
Here are five tips to help you master the art of doing nothing.
1. Avoid Social Media
Cutting social media out of your life for one day a week is a good way of doing nothing. How often do you find yourself reaching for the phone to get the latest update on your FB or Instagram? I bet more than you would like to admit. And, if you were honest with yourself, looking at social media every 10 minutes can be pretty exhausting!
Scrolling social media is a form of busyness and when you do it too often, it can be exhausting as well as emotionally draining if you find yourself thinking everyone else’s life is way more exciting than yours. Cut out social media for the day and discover how much more relaxed you are at the end of the day.
2. Breathe, Meditate, Or Do Some Yoga
Deep breathing exercises, meditation, or doing a yoga routine is a wonderful way of doing nothing. Yes, you’re doing something but you’re not being busy, busy, busy. Instead, you’re doing nothing by being mindful, quiet, and slowing down your body.
By taking deep breaths, you’re bringing your attention to what’s going on in your body. Meditation helps you to calm your mind and bring clarity while yoga slows your body down with meaningful movements. These practices allow you to reconnect with yourself while restoring balance once more. You also learn to live in the moment.
3. Go Star Gazing (or look at the moon)
Spend a night staring up at the stars. And, if you’re living in the city and you can’t see many stars, look out for the moon. Or, simply sit with all the lights turned off in your home and stare out into the darkness. I often like to sit on our little koppie late at night (in summer!) and look out over the city lights while trying to catch a sight of Venus.
Sitting outside on a Full Moon night is another way of doing nothing. And, yet you’re reconnecting with all that is around you and within you. Your body starts to relax as you give it time out from technology, endless chatter, and seemingly never-ending work tasks. You could visit your local planetarium for a night of stargazing or get yourself a telescope!
4. Read a Book or Listen to Music
Reading a good book is another way of mastering the art of doing nothing. It’s essential to commit to turning off the phone and not letting anyone else distract you when reading. Giving yourself a few hours on the weekend or at night time, to switch off and open a book, means you’re cutting out busyness for a while.
Listening to music is another good way of doing nothing. But, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of turning on the computer while having music playing in the background. The lesson here is to actually LISTEN to the music and enjoy it. You could dance if you want to – that’s relaxing. You could even cook if it’s an enjoyable pastime for you but the trick here is to avoid any busyness while listening to music.
Read this wonderful book by Veronique Vienne, "The Art of Doing Nothing: Simple Ways to Make Time for Yourself" and discover more ways of managing the busyness of life.
5. Go for a Walk or Take a Nap
Going for a walk outdoors is a marvelous way of doing nothing. The activity raises your serotonin levels so you don’t need to worry about anxiety creeping in. And, if you can find a park to walk in, you’ll feel uplifted by the natural environment. Walking is beneficial to your health, physically and mentally, while keeping your need to be busy at bay.
You could do what the Italians do and take an afternoon nap every day. And, if you’re one of the few who has returned to working in an office environment, then close the door and take a quick 10-minute nap in your chair. It will do wonders for breaking up the busyness of your workday.
There’s a time and place for healthy busyness. Equally so, there’s a time and place for idleness and relaxation. By mastering the art of doing nothing, you’ll also learn to master the art of NOT having to be busy all the time. It’s all about finding a healthy balance between your work and personal life. And, understanding what drives your need to be busy.
When you can learn to do nothing, you’re allowing your body to recover from periods of busyness which means you can hopefully avoid burnout or emotional exhaustion. You’re learning to let go and live in the moment while accepting that all will be fine in the end.
This post was originally published on August 28th 2021, and updated on October 19th, 2022.