Today’s post is by Leah Rampy (first featured in April 2015 Shalem eNews)
Lately I’ve noticed how often “I’m busy” is creeping into my conversations and into my thinking. “My family? Oh, everyone’s so busy?” “Yes, we are really busy at work.” Some years ago I vowed to eliminate “busy” from my vocabulary, but when I wasn’t paying attention, it returned. I hate to admit it, but there’s something a little self-important about having a full schedule. Could it be that I am mindlessly falling prey to the requests that come my way as I soothe my ego with a sense of being needed?
When I speak about being busy, it’s a sure sign that my mind is engaged more than my heart. I am leaning forward into all that I must do, lessening the chance that I will be fully present in this conversation with you. How can I be available to a “long, loving look at the real” when I am caught up in a long list of activities and planning what I must do to check them off?
Busyness and its cousin, “multitasking,” are diseases of our time. Even though multiple studies have confirmed that our brains simply cannot handle more than one task at a time, we continue under the illusion that we have somehow managed to multitask and thereby have found a way to cheat time. There’s a seduction to this way of working, an adrenaline rush that leaves us feeling powerful and ready for the next round of near-crises over which we will prevail. And so we continue to over-schedule ourselves, trying to fit everything into our calendars, denying the need to make choices about how we use the time we have been given.
Yet paradoxically it’s also draining and stressful to be so over-scheduled. We have no time to let the answers find us, no opening to see beauty in our daily lives, no space to enjoy this moment. Our interactions with others take short shrift; our conversations become primarily transactional as people become a means to support the ends we wish to achieve. We disconnect from the wisdom of our spiritual hearts and miss the Holy moments.
It would be bad enough if we were over scheduling only ourselves; yet our attraction to the “busy” spills over into the various domains of our lives. How are we shaping our children and our families when we need extensive calendars and negotiations about who will drive whom where and when? What does it teach our children about what we consider important when getting to the next activity takes precedence over watching the caterpillar on the sidewalk or sharing about the day?
If we are invited to leadership in any aspect of our lives, I think we must consider what it means to us, to those with whom we work, and to the mission we serve if we are busy leaders. In 2002 Harvard Business Review published an article that caught my eye, the essence of which has remained with me ever since. In “Beware the Busy Manager,” Bruch and Ghoshal share the findings of a study done in a dozen large companies. They write, “Our findings on managerial behavior should frighten you: Fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities. In other words, a mere 10% of managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.” The energetic but unfocused practices—the busyness—of the majority of these managers limit their effectiveness.
The purposeful few husband their energy, ensuring that they focus only on the most important priorities. The authors quote one manager as saying, “‘In the busiest times, I slow down and take time off to reflect on what I actually want to achieve and sort what’s important from irrelevant noise,’ he says. ‘Then I focus on doing what is most important.’” The authors go on to report that purposeful managers are also skilled at finding ways to reduce stress and refuel. “They commonly draw on what we call a ‘personal well’—a defined source for positive energy.
It seems to me that the findings of Bruch and Ghoshal actually offer support for contemplatively-oriented leadership! This from-the-spiritual-heart leadership isn’t about busyness, false pride in our work, or frantic action. Contemplative leadership invites us to take the time to listen deeply to the True Leader who works in a timeframe beyond our limitations and understanding.
We have been caught in the web of rushing and multitasking; it’s time to free ourselves. As we seek to live a life where we are ever more open, present and available to the Sacred, I think that we will have to look square into the face of busyness, smile at our gullible nature, and come home to spaciousness. Perhaps when we hear or think the word “busy,” we could imagine it as a bell, calling us back to the present. When we catch ourselves trying to multitask, we might see it as an invitation to a long, slow breath that brings us back to the present. When we notice that we are physically and psychologically leaning forward into the task ahead of us rather than attending to the work at hand, it may be time for extended silence. I’m reminded of the old Zen saying, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Wise words.
And so I am recommitting to eliminating “busy” from my vocabulary and from my actions. Certainly I hope that the next time you ask me how I am, I am not even tempted to respond, “I’m busy.” And if I do, I ask you to remind me that perhaps an extended time of silence might be invited!
Leah Rampy leads pilgrimages and programs on contemplative leadership for Shalem. From 2009-2015, she served as Shalem’s executive director. Leah enjoys writing and speaking about contemplative ecology. She has extensive experience as a corporate executive and as a leadership consultant.
Do you yearn to explore a way of leading that is more aligned with your heart? Are you seeking community and support for this heart-led way? Join Leah Rampy for an online Contemplative Leadership Seminar. In the six sessions, we will focus on shifting how you lead in the workplace. Available now through Oct 29. Sign up here.