On being busy and being stressed

I’ve gotten emails from people — those I know well and those who I don’t know quite as well — asking me for a favor now and then. It’s usually prefaced with the line “I know you’re busy,” then proceeds to ask me to do something for them. That task can range from writing a blog post for them or reading and responding to something they wrote. Almost every time this happens, the favor is for something I quite enjoy doing. Usually, being asked is flattering. Someone took the time to contact me to help them with something because they value my input. It sounds egotistical, but it also means a lot to be thought of as a person to turn to for something.

I’m just as guilty as contacting people for favors using that same line about knowing they’re busy.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially in light of a recent article naming librarianship as one of the least stressful jobs and in light of being a blogger who often wonders what value I’m providing in my role as a book blogger (either in my role as a librarian professionally or in my role as someone who just enjoys reading and discussing books). The first piece — the article about stress — unraveled as librarians began offloading the sorts of stress they deal with daily in the work place. Some librarians saw this as an opportunity to downplay the stress of others, suggesting that their stress wasn’t “real” or wasn’t as “important” as stress in other jobs. The entire conversation has been fascinating and appalling on some levels. Since when do we rank stress and how it impacts everyone on an individual level? I find my job stressful, but a lot of it comes because of out-of-the-ordinary situations. I’ve worked in libraries where my stress was horrible because of factors completely unrelated to doing the job or unrelated to those oddball situations.

The thing I walked away with, though, was that many wear their stress as a badge. As if having a lot of it or having none of it made them somehow more or less important than anyone else. I think it’s easy to have this sort of feeling, especially in a job where there’s no badge in terms of salary. Librarians don’t make money. So do we rank our importance and our value, then, based on stress and how we do or do not handle it well? Does the more stressed librarian do more important work or does the less stressed librarian? How we react to and wear our stresses does not, in fact, mean anything beyond what it means to us on an individual level. Stress management differs among every person. You can’t rank it, nor should you. It differs. It’s situational. It’s relational. It’s not a token of anything.

In terms of book blogging, there’s been a lot of discussion in the last few months about how important the work bloggers do is. Bloggers — myself included — spend a lot of time and personal cash to make things happen on their blogs. They spend money to attend conventions and conferences, to cover the cost of purchasing and shipping prize books, to buy books for themselves, and so forth. They spend money on domains and on whatever extras they choose to include on their website. Then there is the unquantifiable factor of time. Everyone spends different amounts of time doing what they do, but it all amounts to being significant: there’s the reading, then the reviewing, then the posting and promoting of content on the blog and across social networks. It can, indeed, be stressful to be a blogger because of how much there is to do and how much is involved in being effective.

It boils down to the same thing though: does the blogger who spends the most money and effort wear it as a badge to prove their value? Does the blogger who puts in the least effort but still does a good job have more proof of success because they handle their efforts differently? The answer is no. You can’t quantify this except in terms of what it brings you on a personal level. You can’t rank it, nor should you. Again, it differs. It’s situational. It’s relational. It’s not a token of anything.

Whenever I think about being busy, I think about this opinion piece in the New York Times last summer. It got a ton of response, as people weighed in on the value of “being busy.” Being busy, much like being stressed, is something people use to assess their worth and merit on some levels, isn’t it? The busier you are, the more important you are, even if your “busy-ness” is entirely self-imposed. But again. Busy differs. It’s situational. It’s relational. It’s not a token of anything.

Sure, I’m a busy person. But I only do things that matter to me. I don’t blog as frequently as I do because I feel obligated to. If I’m doing something that doesn’t make me happy, I reassess it, and if I need to, I quit. It’s my decision to remove that stress or busy factor out of my life. I do work off hours because I like to. I do it because it brings me satisfaction. I enjoy working. If I didn’t, I would quit. I’ve done that before. Stress stinks, but it’s something you have the ability to manage.

What I don’t do, though, is assess my busy against myself or against anyone else. Because it doesn’t matter. Why should it? I have a handle on task management and time management. Sure, I get stressed out about tackling everything I want to tackle in a day, in a week, in a month, in a year. But I don’t feel the need to make it a public event, nor do I feel the need to wear it as an honor. What I’m doing if I do that is giving myself some sort of arbitrary importance based on . . . nothing.

I’ve thought about this in relation to reading and how many times I hear people say to me they can’t believe how much I read or how I find the time to read. It’s simple: you make time for the things that matter to you. I read because I enjoy it and it matters greatly to me. There are other important things in my life, too, and I make time for them. Does it get stressful? Absolutely. Are there times I feel like I am getting nothing done and will never get anything done? All the time. But it doesn’t mean my stress is all-consuming nor that my busy-ness is part and parcel of who I am.

I don’t want people to think of me as the person who is too busy to help out or the person too stressed to be effective. I make those decisions for myself. If something’s important to me, I am going to make time for it.

I think we get too caught up in feeling like we need to do it all, and in doing so, we forget the value of being able to say no. We forget how we are in charge of making our time and our expertise work for us. We choose instead to fall back into the lazy and meaningless excuses of stress and busy.

Another trap we fall into frequently is the feeling like we need to be immediate. Very little is life or death in terms of response. We can take our times to think about the requests asked of us, and we can make the choice to say that something may take us a few weeks or a month to respond to. When we’re not pressuring ourselves to be the quickest and the fastest, we allow ourselves to be thoughtful with our time and with our energy. We find much more satisfaction in helping other people and we do ourselves a massive favor in terms of our own energy and sanity. Stress and busy are fueled by our need for immediacy when in reality, there is no need for immediacy.

I’m making a conscious effort this year and in the future to be careful when I start judging people’s time and energy and expertise and willingness to do something based on factors like busy-ness and stress. I don’t want to preface my favor-asking with “I know you’re busy, but . . .” and instead, I want to make clear I ask for favors because the person I’m asking it from has some expertise or insight I value enough to reach out to. They have the choice whether to return the favor or not, based on their own needs and time commitments. No hard feelings on either side of the board.

We pick and choose where to put our energy and effort. If it’s in airing our importance or amplifying other people’s importance by stress and busy, we’re continuing to feed into an invisible machine that ranks people based on these things which cannot be ranked. What’s important and what’s worth the stress and time is up to you individually. You can’t project it on anyone else, nor should you.

We all have our roles and we all have our passions. We choose where to put our time and our efforts based on those things and those extraneous factors we cannot assess.

We are all stressed.

We are all busy.

If we were not, we would not be living.

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  1. says

    Love this post. I see the reverse sometimes too when people without children/spouses/pets etc. are perceived as not being busy…or stressed, and their time is therefore taken advantage of. Geesh, between your post and Jo Knowles' post, I have a lot of thinking to do for the New Year! : )

    • says

      YES! This! A lot of times people who are single/childless/etc are seen as not busy and therefore their time can be used where people who are busy with other obligations of their choosing (like marriage, children, etc) cannot. No one's busy is any more important or valuable than another person's, just as free time is not more valuable or less valuable.

  2. says

    I love this. So many times I want to say to people, "Yes, I know you are busy. We all are." It really shouldn't be a badge of anything since we all create our lives and the things with which we fill them.

  3. says

    I love this post. One of my pet peeves is when people wave their hands and say "I'm so impressed you do x, y, and z. I just don't have time for that." It's dismissive, and also a little insulting.

    It's not a matter of time, it's that x, y, and z aren't a priority for you. Last time I checked, we all have the same number of hours in a day…

    • says

      YES! It is dismissive, even though I don't think that's the intention behind it. It's dismissive though because it assumes you don't know how to prioritize and make things happen when you've clearly done so with intention to make it happen.

    • says

      Adding, too, there's a clear and definite difference between celebrating someone's achievements — it's great you did x, y, and z, and good for you — vs the notion of WOW, you DID it, if that makes sense.

  4. says

    Some people (myself included) have trouble saying no. I can almost always fit everything in, but lately it's gotten harder and harder as more things are put on my plate. I've had to really give a lot of thought to my 'to do' list and what I can and can't handle. For me, reading has fallen behind and I hate that, but I will make more time for it this year.

    Thanks for the excellent perspective and the reminder of what's really important and making priorities that make sense to the individual. We all wear different shoes.

    • says

      This is something I have been really conscious of lately! I have always had trouble saying no, fearful of making someone angry or sad. But I've learned now that I've been dealt my fair share of nos that it's not a big deal. People all have their time and they parse it out where and how they need to. It's not a personal thing. It's important to remember that for yourself, too, you know?

  5. says

    This is a wonderful perspective, and so well-worded. Keeping these thoughts in mind will help when dealing with my own stresses and the stresses of others. Thank you for the calming inspiration; I'm sharing it with everyone I know!

  6. says

    Great post. I am right there with you. I've had to ask a lot of people for their time in the past year, but I assumed if they didn't have time, they'd tell me so nicely, and for the most part, they have. I would much rather hear "no" then "maybe" or no answer at all.

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