A few weeks ago a colleague and friend suggested a drink after work. We hadn’t seen one another properly for a few weeks apart from whizzing around the corridors, giving one another a brief ‘Hi!’ and ‘You alright?’ before shooting off to our next class or meeting.
So when she suggested a drink, I hesitated. I wanted to hang out, perhaps even grab a beer or two, but I had things to do. Really important things and they really couldn’t wait, or at least that was how I felt.
At that point in time my to-do list was heaving; work to mark, lessons to plan, write a letter of resignation to my current employer (this was certainly something I was postponing until the last minute), organise details for Christmas with family, edit my CV, order my brother a birthday card and arrange a gift, research opportunities using my teaching experience in other career fields, go food shopping, read about if there really is life after teaching, cry a bit and then do some more marking.
I didn’t go for those beers in the end.
A couple of days later after going nearly five days without hitting the gym (something that certainly helps me when it comes to de-stressing), I decided to attend a yoga class. And despite my best intentions I found myself increasingly frustrated as I couldn’t get into it, my mind was elsewhere; on that marking, on the lessons, I still needed to plan for the following day, on the alterations I needed to make to my CV…
I was anywhere but there.
So even when I was trying to take some time out and reflect, my mind was still on how busy things were.
I know that I am not the only one, even in just my social circle friends parrot back to me about how busy their lives are, with work commitments often taking up the lion’s share. But what is exactly making us so busy? When did we allow ourselves to keep going like we are living on a hamster wheel and not take the time to stop for a few moments to think about our next steps?
IT IS TECHNOLOGIES FAULT OR A POOR USER MANUAL?
Technology was meant to make our lives easier, relieving the burden of certain (particularly monotonous or repetitive) tasks and therefore freeing us up to focus on other aspects of a job, or even provide us with more ‘free time.’ However, computers for all their efficiency saving aspects have also created additional work, although I believe that this could be more to do with the use of computers in the workplace than the computers themselves. For example, a part of my role is to record student data. Pretty straightforward. I have my own spreadsheet where I enter student grades for tasks such as homework or assessments. However, I also have to enter this data on not one, but two further spreadsheets for the schools use. The first of which is the whole school data system and the second is for one of the members of management specifically. Why on earth he cannot use the whole school data management system or god forbid my spreadsheet is alien to me. So instead, the entire teaching faculty are expected to enter the same information multiple times.
There is some argument that being busy stems from the complex modern world that we live in. Many of us are connected in some capacity to our work 24/7 through phone and the internet. So even when we are at home or socialising with friends and family, it’s easy to do a ‘quick’ check-in with work. Interestingly this pressure to be present, also runs in parallel to the messages presented to us from various corners of the media that we (as a human race!) are losing grip of the present and so we need to spend time embracing the now, utilising relaxation and meditation practices.
But isn’t this (or me!) missing the point to an extent? Although there are certain findings that highlight people who meditate do find themselves more relaxed, productive and able to focus on the present, it’s often difficult to carve out time to complete the actual practice part. For myself, when I acknowledged my burnout earlier this year, I turned to meditation and downloaded an app for my phone. I lasted about a week and even then I had to keep reminding myself to actually do it via my calendar. Poor discipline on my part? Or could it be more to do with the fact that taking time out to meditate felt like it was at the bottom of that to-do list?
‘IF YOU’RE NOT BUSY, THEN THERE’S A PROBLEM’
This was something my current boss said to me within a few months of starting at my job a few years ago. I am often reminded of his words when I am pulling my hair out over data, weighed down with report writing/editing for my team, or like when I barely have chance to go to the toilet in the working day (note: I am reminded of the quote more than my boss at this time!). At least while passing the time in the bathroom, I can think of those words and remember that being busy has got to be a good thing… right?
In contemporary (Western) society, there is a level of stigma attached to those who are not seen as busy, the words slacker, lazy, unproductive come to mind. Because there is always something that you could be doing. Well, that is according to my boss.
I can only speak for me and my role as a teacher but in my ten-year career, the pressure to be busy has never felt more tangible. Data is followed by more paperwork so we can analyse student performances in examinations, which is then debated at length in meetings with management. Planning and marking are heavily scrutinised so that management can ensure students are progressing sufficiently and that our lessons are up to scratch. And finally, students are plotted on neat graphs to see how they are performing against other students in the school and across the world.
But is there a way to stop or at least even slow the hamster wheel?
Well, it’s something that I am still trying to work out… but I did manage to grab a couple of beers with my friend – only two weeks after first suggesting it.