'Unbusy': How to Make Space for Ourselves

TEXT by Christina Crook | PHOTOGRAPHS by DTTSP


Its so true—when asked how we're doing, we nearly always default to "great, but so busy". We wear it like a badge of honour, and being busy is oftentimes perceived by ourself and others as a marker of importance. But truthfully, overcommiting ourselves and constantly feeling pressed to do more takes a toll. It leads to burn-out and a dissatisfaction with our lives in general because we've left zero space for ourselves and our own personal growth. Author Christina Crook, an expert on decreasing our addiction to spending time online (we've interviewed her on this topic before) shares some of her thoughts on becoming unbusy and why it's important.

A FEW WEEKS AGO I was in between meetings downtown and had an hour and half to kill. Normally I bike to and from these appointments, it's my Wednesday tradition: a weekly commitment to get outside, to move my body, to let loose on the wild streets of Toronto. But this week I drove because I was going to cram a Costco grocery trip, a half hour drive away, smack dab in the middle of my precious day.

Then I thought the better of it.

Instead of rushing like a maniac, I chose to meander a favourite bit of the city: the strip of Queen Street directly across from Trinity Bellwoods Park. I popped into a bookstore and ordered my friend’s new novel, I combed the magazine stand, and picked up some gifts for our 3-year-old's upcoming birthday.

I am learning, slowly, to do one less thing.

I confess that I am the kind of person that prizes herself on getting things done. I am a doer. An achiever. A tick-things-off-the-list operator.

What I’ve realized is that it’s not a life.

To live well we must, well, live. Be. Be still. Be with.

So many of our days are spent on autopilot, blitzing from one task to the next. What’s worse is we’ve valorized our ability to keep up a more and more frenetic pace.


“When did we stop choosing our lives, and begin surrendering to them?” asks Jonathan Fields, founder of the Good Life Project, in his recently published ‘Unbusy Manifesto.’ “Half-living each day as a reaction to the constant barrage of never-ending to-do lists, social obligations, work functions, status updates, and more? Pummelled by reactive, autopilot busyness, rather than living life as an expression of who we really are. Of what matters most.”

“I’m unbusy,” said no one ever, but this year I want to hear myself say it, to feel it, to begin with the words: “Yes, I’m free. Come on over. We’re waiting.”

This year I’m giving myself permission to do less and dig deeper.

When it comes down to it, it’s a pretty cutthroat way of living. It means drawing a line. It means getting clear on what we value, who we value.

Doing less means saying no more times than we’d like. It means potentially disappointing others and ourselves as we turn down shiny opportunities. It means staving off overcommitment like a dam. The dam looms large, holding the waters back, its solidness permitting peaceful dwelling below.

“What if we chose what mattered? We set the pace. We decided who to work with, to play with, to create with, to partner with, to give to, to be in service of?” asks Jonathan Fields. “What if we crafted and celebrated each moment? Not from a place of constantly catching-up frenzy, but of grounded intention. Of lightness. Of joy. What if we could breathe again?”

We can breathe again.

We can breathe again by wholeheartedly beginning to ask these questions:

Who is this for? [Ask this before saying yes to a commitment or beginning a task.]

What today was most life-giving and what was most life-taking? [Ask these questions, in the spirit of St. Ignatius of Loyola, at the end of each day and keep a journal of your answers. Look back over a few weeks and see what themes emerge.]

Let’s be honest with ourselves, ruthless with our time, and this year, may we breathe again. May we step lightly into the new year.

Rituals and Habits to Support Doing Less:

1. Journaling | By nature, journaling requires you to slow down and reflect on how you are feeling or goals you may have. Making time for it has proven results in helping you achieve your goals and greater self-satisfaction. 

2. Develop Rituals | A form of self-care that we absolutely love, rituals are different from habits in that they are always intentional. The benefit comes of the doing, and is a powerful tool in helping us to slow down with the added benefit of creating an environment or a feeling that you love, even if it's simply setting time aside to read, lighting candles in the evening, brewing a cup of coffee or tea, etc.

3. Always Keep Learning | Challenging yourself to always be learning something new is an addictive process, and feeling more knowledgeable and capable is amazing. If you find something you are truly passionate to learn about, it forces you to carve out time for yourself. While this isn't exactly doing "less", its making time for you which by default will have you committing to less outside obligations. 

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CHRISTINA CROOK, Author: Christina Crook is the author of The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World and founder of Daily JOMO: a free playful prompt to get you offline and into good living. Listen to our interview with Christina here!