by guest blogger Renee James, essayist and blogger
Last week, NPR posted a piece titled “Are You Overwhelmed? You Don’t Have to Be.” That may be true, but it doesn’t feel true. I read it and thought, “Yes. Really?”
One hundred years ago, when people were asked, “How are you,” did everyone answer “Busy?” Based on the activity on Downton Abbey, at least downstairs, that answer would have made much more sense back in 1913. Maybe we’re too distracted to be specific, and “busy” covers a lot of territory. “Busy” means we have places to go and people to meet. Deadlines, due dates, cutoffs, timelines, demands. Despite our desire for “downtime” and “kicking back,” we’ve managed to create and worship the following paradigm in this enlightened 21st century: free time = slacker. Our lives feel like a competition in which the person with the longest to-do list wins. No thanks—I’m out.
This may be why I feel so stressed. But what in the world is keeping me so busy?
I can answer that: I have no idea. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that as adults we’re regressing, at least in terms of time management. We have just as much time as our parents did. More, if you count E-Z Pass. More, if you count going grocery shopping at 2 a.m. and paying our bills online at dawn. The only places that were open 24 hours a day 50 years ago were the police station and the hospital. And everyone usually tried to avoid showing up at either one, regardless of the hour.
On the other hand, we may actually have less time than people did a generation ago. Once we account for the hours we spend watching an entire series on DVR over a weekend, sitting on the sidelines at soccer practice four nights a week, or updating our Facebook status nine times a day, not to mention reading text messages, checking in, posting playlists, or re-tweeting a cool picture, it’s no wonder we’re behind.
My theory here is that this is not entirely our doing. Technology is appealing. But we should be sleeping at 2 a.m., not paying bills—or working—online. Our goal should be to have one real conversation with one friend once a week; not 19 two-sentence communications with 27 friends 36 times a week. I’ve learned that when I can do something “whenever,” I never do.
And don’t talk to me about multitasking. We’re all so brilliant we can do four things at once, and plan the fifth and sixth in our heads while we do. So why do we still answer that “How are you?” question with “Busy”?
Multitaskers announce to the world, “Look at me! I used to worry that I couldn’t concentrate on a task for longer than four minutes, but now I don’t really pay close attention to several things at once and call it multitasking—everyone seems to think it’s admirable.” Isn’t this exactly why we start kids on Ritalin before they can tie their shoes? We force them to behave like focused little adults, then allow ourselves to run wild while we claim to be “multitasking.”
Many women wear their multitasking badges with honor, especially after they become mothers. I don’t get it. Because no matter how much you multitask in the kitchen, you don’t save time by preparing three different dinners because one of your kids wants only orange-colored food, another has to have everything “plain,” and the third doesn’t eat anything unless it’s in a hotdog bun.
So where does that leave us? Tired. Maybe cranky. A little bewildered. All I know is my least favorite night of the year is coming up: turning the clock ahead and losing an hour’s sleep. The good news is we can all legitimately claim to be busy/behind/catching up on Sunday.
Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning Op-Ed column for The Morning Call, in Allentown, PA for almost ten years. Her essays have been part of two humor anthologies: 101 Damnations; A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells and Mirth of a Nation Volume 3, and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. Her blog, It’s Not Me, It’s You, addresses topics that mystify her on a regular basis.