Are you busy? It may be better to simply be present

Karen Natzel
BridgeTower Media Newswires

If you were to eavesdrop on conversations, you’d quickly observe a theme: people are busy! The most common response to the question “How’s it going?” is some variation of “Busy,” to which the first responds, “Yeah, me too.” In this all too standard dialogue, busy has become a demonstration of importance – an addictive badge of honor. Couple the mindset of busyness with the holiday season, and you have a recipe for high-octane stress.

How to stay grounded (sane) in a crazy world

Several of my clients have expressed concern that their schedules are so full of meetings they lack time to think. They describe jumping from one task to another without the capacity to focus on bigger issues. One client declared she had “job-induced ADHD.” When busy becomes too pervasive and noisy, it can produce scattered thinking, leaving little to no room for the kind of creative, strategic, reflective or productive thinking that can bring insights and breakthroughs. In a recent Forbes article by contributor Holly Green, it is noted that “Change has become so ubiquitous and so relentless that we no longer take the time to think about what it means. Instead ... we just let it happen to us.”

Sometimes busy manifests as fabricated, self-induced stress from our patterns of perfectionism and procrastination. It may also be a symptom of poor systems, unclear priorities and processes, habits, beliefs, and a lack of follow-through that perpetuates more stress. If we equate “being busy” with our sense of worth, then when we are not busy, we may find ourselves feeling lost or “not enough.” In the badge of busy, our self-worth can get tangled up in the volume of stuff to do, rather than the strengths we bring.

The antidote? I suggest replacing “being busy” with “being present.” People often interpret downtime as wasted time, or laziness, so they avoid it. If instead we were to practice slowing down, creating space and being mindful, we would bring some equanimity into our lives. Mindfulness is simply a mental state of awareness during the present moment. There’s a growing adoption of mindfulness wellness programs – no doubt because of the evidence that mindfulness raises emotional intelligence and improves focus, productivity and creativity, while reducing stress.

Slowing down allows us to pause, assess and be more deliberate in our choices. I recently spoke with my financial advisor, Brian Lawrence of North Ridge Wealth Advisors. In preparation for our time together, he asked me, “What’s your time budget?” He spoke of time in terms of its value and finite amount, so that we could be intentional with how we would spend it. When we know what we want out of an experience, we are more likely to shape a successful outcome.

Being present can bring peace and productivity

Being busy agitates, while being present eases the mind. It requires paying attention to one’s inner and outer world while suspending the need or temptation to live in the past or future. When we are present, we observe more nuances and we listen differently. We not only absorb more of the experience, but also give others a gift of respect by being more present with them. We ultimately gain more connection.

Creating flow

Being present can also help create a state of flow, wherein you are totally focused on the activity in front of you. The characteristics of flow include having clarity of goals, concentration, gaining immediate feedback and intrinsic reward, a sense of control over what you are doing without the fear of failure, a transformation of time, and a merging of actions and awareness. There’s a congruency that transpires that leaves one energized and feeling complete.

Some stress can fuel positive action. If I have a full schedule of challenging and satisfying client work, I am more inspired than if there is a lull in my workload. However, I don’t love the feeling of being stressed and overwhelmed – or being fearful of dropping the ball. In a recent text exchange with a friend I told him that I was “catching up on life,” to which he earnestly replied, “Have you ever been caught up?” His seemingly simple retort holds wisdom: we will never be caught up. And perhaps that’s not the measure of success. If we want to exchange being busy for being at peace, we need to have clarity about what we want to accomplish and give up perfectionism and overcommitment. As our world reflects our priorities, we can relax into a more productive space, not one where we are simply going through the motions of a to-do list.


Karen Natzel is a business therapist. Contact her at 503-806-4361 or