Better than Busy

Today is my “get organized on the home front” day. I look at next week’s calendars for my husband, my daughter and myself. I try to plan out meals we can make which take into account how busy we are each evening. My daughter and I forward think her study plan around her swim team commitments. We strategize who will do what, when, so that we can best get it all done and still find time to in our evenings to be together as a family.

I used to think I worked hard to do it all. Now however, I find I work hard to focus on doing what matters and turning down the volume on what doesn’t. It is deciding what goes in which column that can be difficult.

Being busy has always been a blessing for me. In University my grades improved the semester I got a job and had to balance my limited time. In both my work and mom roles I recognize there have been moments when I was highly effective at getting something done because either my schedule or a particular deadline made me do it.

However, a life of deadlines is deadly. It can sap the joy from the experience of being awake and part of something. It can cause creativity to leak out and add a sense of pressure to the goal, which clouds the situation, and your focus. At work, it is easy to move through the huge number of events and important dates and not be present in the experience of school. As a society we are busy. As parents we are busy. As educators we are busy. We know our kids are… busy.

But being busy isn’t the same as being productive. Being productive isn’t the same as being balanced. And I’m sure you would agree it is balanced most of us are striving for. (See Dennis Sparks’s recent blog post about “Crazy Busy”.)

So how do we help set the stage for balanced days in our schools for our teachers, our parents and most importantly for our students?

First, we need to help people recognize why striving for less is actually more. (See the NYT article on The ‘Busy’ trap.) We need to give people permission to focus on a few things- really well. Then when we celebrate, we need to celebrate not only the task completion, but also the way we all feel about the work and the workload.

Another key is to say ‘no’ with more frequency. No, is not a positive word for many. Saying ‘no’ to an idea can be misinterpreted as saying ‘no’ to the person behind the idea. However, if we want to move forward as organizations and as people in ways that hold us up and keep us balanced and capable of doing our best work; then no isn’t a negative, it is a necessity.

Finally, we need to listen to each other and value where people are and what they can do. When I hear a colleague saying he can’t get it all done, or a parent complain they are running from event to event, or when my daughter says she just wants some time to not think, I need to stop what I’m doing and hear them. While my ability to juggle, produce and manage might enable me to find a sense of balance, something isn’t working for them. The goal then, for all of us, is to try and help.

Families, individuals, and organizations that cultivate balance as a way to ensure they do their best work and live their best lives might actually be a new definition of a 21st century learner. Learning to live within this new world as a productive person, doing meaningful work and living a vibrant life requires we strive for more than just being “busy”.

About Jen Munnerlyn

Jen Munnerlyn is the Elementary Principal at the American School of Warsaw. Her international experience began back in 1980 when her parents first started teaching overseas. Jen blogs about her own experiences as a Third Culture Kid, the adventures of being the mother of a TCK, and about elementary education in an international school setting. Her picture book The Adventure Begins, about the first day at an international school, is a favorite among adults and students abroad.
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