multitasking person at office
Image courtesy Ryan Ritchie/Flickr.

A couple years ago I saw a commercial, the gist of which was that if we don’t add more to our lives (like whatever the now-forgotten product was), we’re going to get left behind.  In other words, being very busy = success.

We’ve become a world of busyness, filling our time with 24/7 media consumption and multitasking; with piles of magazines and RSS feeds (that we often don’t get around to reading); with social media and smartphones (so that we’re “connected” 24/7); with meetings and appointments and obligations (most of which we don’t actually enjoy). We can look back on our days and say “Look at all that I’ve accomplished!”

But how many of those accomplishments are truly meaningful? How many of those demands on our time are really necessary and fulfilling?

I suspect that part of the reason we overstuff our lives with fillers and gadgets is that it makes us feel important and needed. I’ve long been a little jealous of people who have smartphones, talking to the office about essential work or texting friends and loved ones — someone NEEDS them! They’re important! I want to be important and needed too!

But really, I don’t need a smartphone to feel that way.  I don’t need to be accessible to my workplace 24/7 to get my work done and know that what I’m doing is valuable and meaningful. I don’t need a mobile device to stay connected to friends and family. (Some people really do, I realize; just not me — yet, anyway.)

Do we fill our lives with such (superficial) complexity so that we won’t have to experience what’s really going on? Is it a way of trying to connect in a world in which it’s increasingly challenging to really do so?

From the time we’re young and our parents fill our days with afterschool activities, lessons, and scheduled playdates, we’re enculturated to stuff as much as we can into each hour, each minute. There’s a near-constant voice in our heads, loudly whispering “Hurry! Hurry! More! More!”, prodding us to pick up the pace, add another obligation.

Author Janet Luhrs said,  “There are thousands of seductive activities waiting for our attendance every day. We hate to miss any of them. But simple living has taught me one thing: It is not only fine to miss a good portion of the things, it is better.”

Part of creating a just, compassionate, humane world for people, animals, and the earth means saying no to “staying busy” for its own sake. It means paying attention to how we’re spending our time — to what we’re giving our life energy to — and carefully and consciously choosing (as best as our circumstances allow) work, life, and citizenship that reflect our deepest values and feed us — mind, body, and soul — so that we are engaged in joyful, meaningful, fulfilling lives that are only as “busy” as serves us and the world we’re working to create.