The busyness trap

This week, I have been incredibly inspired by a friend’s post on motherhood “It doesn’t get easier” and I think what she shares also applies to life in general. Each (growing) phase brings new set of challenges that would always stumble us initially, though we will eventually find our way, our way out of the maze, our way of overcoming.

As I moved into the second week of my gap year, I hoped for a less hectic week, consciously cutting down on the number of social engagements. I thought that if I go out less, I would have more time and be able to rest more. Yet, this week remains an amazingly busy week, so busy that I had not no time to collect my thoughts till now.

One thing I have learnt as I grappled with the busyness trap is the notion of hidden work. For instance, my teaching days were Monday and Tuesday, the two days I designated to be my working days. Yet, before I know it, Wednesdays became the day I handled all admin-related matters such as updating attendance and downloading task submissions. Fridays became the day I reviewed the following week’s teaching materials and communicate with the teaching assistants I worked with the tasks I have for them. Sundays after church is now spent planning ahead for subsequent classes. Doesn’t this sound like a full-time job? What was supposed to be a two-day affair now take up close to five working days!

It was not like I did not know I had to do all these things before I signed on the dotted line. It was more of a case of me thinking that all these should not be too hard to do; and that is true. I did not find any of the above tasks particularly difficult but, that does not make them any less time consuming, particularly when the perfectionist in me rears its ugly head, demanding full proof plans, multiple back-up plans and a plethora of lesson materials. No wonder I have been busy! I had an invisible slave driver working hidden in plain sight imposing hidden expectations, giving myself a terribly hard time. Needless to say, I have no one other than myself to blame therefore, for the stress I am experiencing.

There are often many hidden somethings impinging on our limited time and energy, and I have often heard well-meaning friends telling me to slow down, to take it easy and to learn to smell the roses. As much as I appreciate these reminders, I am often stuck trying to figure out exactly what do taking things easy mean and how does one actually slow down and slow down enough to smell the roses? I can only say that I am slowly learning and as part of my processing, I am sharing here some insights that I have gleaned from the past two weeks of experimentation.

1. Accepting that less is more
In the past, I would tried to do as much as humanly possible in a day, trying to clear up to 3 to 4, or even 5 items on my to-do checklist. One of my core values has always been efficiency. However, now that I am on my break, I find operating in such a driven mode draining. The more I try to do, the more stressed I become and the less I accomplish. Now, I try to only do one thing a day, i.e. either run an errand or plan my lessons, instead of trying to make time to do both. While this makes me appear less efficient, I am better able to focus on the task before me, working in breaks for both my mind and body to rest, which improves the quality of my work by a fair margin. Hopefully I can continue to apply this principle for as long as possible.

2. Learning that it is alright to fail (myself)
Ever since my junior college days, I have always strived to exceed expectations, for meeting expectations never quite feel satisfying enough for me. Somewhere in me was this strong desire for excellence and a firm belief that I can always do better, for “the best is yet to be.” These days, I have learnt that I can disappoint myself, who happen also to be my worst critic, and not to take myself too seriously. If I did not accomplish tasks that I set out to do, I learned to let things go and not get too hung up over consequences and implications. I am frequently reminded these days of some wise words a young friend shared many years back “If it is not on fire, it is not urgent” and therefore life goes on.

Right now, I am feeling rather sorry that this week is almost gone and I still do not feel that I am on a break. However, I refuse to beat myself up for it (applying principle no. 2) as I know I am already doing my best sorting out my life and trying to live in the present. Life goes on, right? *grin*

As I shared with a friend today, realising that it was not work who was keeping me busy but me keeping myself busy was the first step toward making a positive change.

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