Like every other woman in the country, I’m busy. Mad busy! Crazy mad busy, even. I’m busy when I’m working – I have seven tabs open on my computer now to prove it – and I’m just as busy when I’m at rest. Or that’s what I call chilling with one eye on my toddler and the other scanning the latest mommy blogs to see if I’m parenting correctly. Turns out I’m not, because I’m supposed to be giving her my full, undivided attention. Unfortunately, 24 is just not enough hours in the day to allow much of that. In post-recession Ireland, busyness has become a status symbol. It means you’re in demand and we wear it proudly, like a badge. For women especially, busyness means we’re at least trying to lean in while having it all and so sometimes we even compete to see who is the most busy, and consequently, exhausted. “Poor me, I was up at 5.30 baking a gluten-free paleo birthday cake.” “Sorry I couldn’t reply to your text, I was polishing my Employee of the Month award.” “I made my own mozzarella yesterday, what have you done lately?”
But busyness does not equal happiness. In fact, being crazy mad busy means we’re missing valuable opportunities to actually enjoy life and seek out genuine fulfilment. In a recent article in The Washington Post, Brené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston and author of Daring Greatly, said the modern and largely self-made disease of busyness has really mushroomed in the last two years. “I think it’s a combination of technology and the economic realities where so many people are doing more than one job,” she explained. “The expectations of what we can get done, and how well we can do it, are beyond human scale.”
Well, Beyond Human Scale is my middle name. In order to pay for full-time childcare, as well as all the other bills that stack up so quickly, I have to work hard, as does my husband. That means never being more than an arm’s reach from my phone, day and night. It means answering emails at 3am on Friday night and writing on the weekend when needs must. Our situation is by no means unusual – it’s the norm in most families where both parents are working outside the home. More and more stay-at-home parents too are supplementing the family income by working during naptime and at night, direct selling being a popular choice for its flexibility. Who needs a cup of coffee or sleep anyway? “Often, women get married and have kids and slowly start to let go of the things they enjoy in life,” says Dr Jaime Kulaga, author of The SuperWoman’s Guide to Super Fulfilment. “Then they start getting compliments on how they juggle so much, and before they know it they don’t do anything for themselves. They tie themselves down with responsibilities and work and they get stuck. And stuck is busy.” I must admit, on the rare occasions when I feel like I’ve reached the peak of a particularly busy day, it does feel good. Work done, home in order, well- fed child in bed, happy husband on the next couch cushion – wife achievement: unlocked. But those days are few and far between. On an average day, I feel overwhelmed, on a bad one, it’s more like incompetent. And with that comes stress, the number one side effect of busyness. “Your body and your mind can only handle taking on the world for so long before depression and anxiety can seep in,” says Dr Kulaga. “You miss out on your life passions. Most women tell me that all they want is a massage and a nap, but that will only rejuvenate you for the chaos of the rest of the day. It takes time to figure out what will sustain long-term fulfilment.”
It’s not so easy to just let go of busyness. In my case, that would mean having to turn down some work. My job is what defines me more than anything else. When someone asks me what I do, I don’t say “a lot of laundry” or “make terrible online shopping choices”; I say, I’m a journalist. I’m only as good as the last piece I’ve had published, and the more work you do, the more work you get. But in order to be more present in what little time I have to spend with my daughter, I accept that I have to battle the busyness – and win. “To beat busyness, you need to say no and not feel guilty about it,” says Dr Kulaga. “Knowing what your life goals are, and prioritising those, will keep you less busy than focusing on chores, which really don’t even matter. Giving dedicated time to things that are important helps too. Multitasking can turn a two-hour project into something that takes an entire day.”
Those seven open tabs on my screen are staring back at me, accusingly. I get a buzz out of multitasking; it makes me feel like I’m hustling. But instead of flicking between websites mindlessly, reading a sentence here, leaving a comment there, I’m closing them. It’s white noise this busyness. I’m going to finish writing this feature and for the first time in recent memory, I’m going to shut down my computer and turn off my phone before heading out to collect my daughter. And we’re going to hang out together for the evening, just the two of us, no rushing and no digital distractions. God knows she can keep me busy enough on her own.