Friday, July 6, 2012

Keeping busy but feeling leisurely

Last week I wrote about wanting this summer to feel more like summers used to when I was in school. Rather than working daily and trying to fit in all the same things I try to fit in the rest of the year, I wanted somehow to have a real summer break – even while filing articles on deadline and maintaining the necessary workload that guarantees a paycheck.

Taking a moment to look back a week after making that resolution, I have to say it really seems to be working. At least in part. Not because I’ve been doing so much less in any particular area of my life but just because I’ve been thinking about work less and thinking about fun more. In the past week, we’ve taken part in our town’s Old Home Day celebration, attended the annual Crawfish Boil hosted by friends of ours, gone to a minor league baseball game, attended a niece’s graduation party, watched two of Tim’s baseball games, and spent 48 hours in Portland over the July 4th holiday. That’s way more fun than I fit into an ordinary work week, and I don’t feel one bit remiss in having done all of that.

I’ve also managed to keep up with work assignments, though in truth I have a little bit less work this summer than is typical.

And so far I’ve even kept the house up reasonably well and maintained a steady supply of groceries and homemade meals for my family.

So it actually doesn’t really feel like I’m kicking back or doing any less; it just feels like my attention has shifted. I’ve just made the fun parts more of a priority, while still fitting in work and domestic duties whenever time allows.

Tim Kreider’s well-circulated essay in last Sunday’s New York Times about what he calls “the ‘busy’ trap” was particularly timely, in my case, because it reminded me that being busy is often less about meeting obligations as about setting priorities. The past week has been busy because I didn’t want to cut back on work, housework, family obligations, or fun. I was busy because I was choosing to do all of that. But somehow it didn’t feel hectic, because I was doing what I wanted to do, both in terms of work and fun. It reminded me that when I fall into the trap that Kreider describes as being “crazy busy,” it’s usually because I’ve taken on obligations I don’t really want: community projects I feel a duty to help out with but am not adequately vested in the outcome of, or the rare work assignment that feels uninspiring and mismatched to my abilities.

So in reality, I might not find myself any less busy at all this summer from a time management perspective. Long uninterrupted days of lounging on the beach will probably not happen, at least not more than once or twice. But it’s all a matter of perspective. My time will probably continue to seem full, but I’ll keep sight of the fact that I’m doing just what I choose to do. And when that’s the case, I’m beginning to realize, being busy can seem like its own kind of leisure.

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