Crazy Busy by Hallowell reviewed


Crazy Busy Back Soon

by Trish Holst, MS on December 3, 2010

Crazy Busy, Back Soon (Part 1)
   It is true that I have been very busy and I have no doubt many of you would say the same thing about your lives. As I listen to people these days, I often get a sense of hurried breathlessness. We all seem to be living in a state of constant time poverty.  For many, time seems to be rushing past at a faster and faster pace. And -- no matter what we do, things feel like the old Dutch saying, “The faster I go, the behinder I get.”
 A recent AP article titled “Americans in a Hurry”1 by Calvin Woodward, tells us that we Americans have become a very impatient people. We Americans want it NOW. When asked, people report feeling more time poor than money poor.
      In my educational therapy practice, I see children who desperately need help for their learning disabilities. But their schedules are already so full of other activities that they have difficulty finding 40 minutes a week to schedule a session. A director of nursing told me she had more success hiring people by offering them time off, rather than better wages.
 I, personally, am experiencing a tremendous time crunch in my life as I try, like many of you, to manage my many rolls:  family member, business owner, case manager for my elderly mom, church member, musician, dog owner, neighbor. I feel tired. I long for a rest. I’ve caught myself saying to folks, “I hardly have time to breathe!”   Along with this time poverty, many social observers report that we, as a society, are losing our sense of connectedness despite the constant contact of cell phones and email.  So, I need some wisdom here. This exploration isn’t because I know the answers, it’s because I need some answers. And I invite you to look over my shoulder while I search.
Things have changed. When I took Spanish in the 60’s, we learned the standard greeting, “Como esta?”  How are you?  And we learned the standard response, “Bueno.” Good.  When asked how she was doing, an old friend of mine, Oddy Curtiss, always responded, “Great, is there any other way to be?”
      Today when we ask how folks are, the answer is more likely to be “Busy.” “Hanging in there.”  “Tired.”  Or, the new superlative: “Crazy busy” as in, “Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner but I’ve just been crazy busy lately.”
      And if folks aren’t busy, they are often apologetic, as if being anything but busy was unvirtuous. Busy is the new badge of courage. Nowadays, being home for supper is a radical act. But even if we do sit down for a meal, many folks then rush off to the computer, or a committee meeting or the work they have brought home.
      When I take a summer or holiday vacation from work, I am often asked, “Where will you be going?” or “What will you be doing?” as though vacation means we must do something. Actually, when I take a vacation, I prefer just being. I like to stay home and putter with no schedule to keep.  That to me is to vacate, that is my vacation.
When did a vacation become something to be survived instead of something that adds to our survivability?
      What has brought us to this state of “Crazy Busy, back soon”? What has brought us to this state of highly connected isolation?  Do we fill our time with activity so we can feel, like Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh: important?  Does this busyness make us feel indispensable, valuable?  Have we lost the sense that we have choices – do all these things need doing – now! What would happen if we quit? Are we afraid of what we might find in the silence if we just sat still for a little while?
Less leisure time.  A 1994 New York Times essay, cited in an article by Janet Ruffing2, noted the erosion of leisure time as a result of all our high tech innovations. Where there used to be odd "spaces"  between  activities called idle time, time when we relaxed, time when we daydreamed, or time when we just "goofed off,"  we now  have faxes, cell phones, and e-mail beckoning - interrupting whatever we are doing. We are now “on” 24/7, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.
       I was a student of leisure studies (that’s a polite word for those of us who majored in play) at Florida State University in the 1960’s. The exciting buzz then was that, due to technological innovations, people would need to work less and less. Indeed, we were taught, the 30 or even 20 hour work week was upon us and those of us in the leisure services field would be in high demand for employment.
      So - what happened?  Instead, many people are now working two jobs to make enough to survive, or working 60 hour weeks. Meanwhile, the rise of always-on internet, Blackberries, cell phones etc. has made the amount of information available to us in the information age just, well, overwhelming.
      Recently I picked up a booklet that chronicled the early history of my childhood Methodist church in Dunedin, Florida. There was an account of a youth trip taken from Dunedin to the neighboring town of Clearwater.  The teenagers piled into a horse drawn wagon early in the day, and traveled by dirt road to a several hour meeting in Clearwater about 20 miles away.  During that time, riding in the wagon, they sang, and chatted and visited with each other, and arrived home tired and relaxed come evening time. One meeting was an all day trip.
      How would that trip look today? Of course, it would only take half an hour for the church group to get to Clearwater. So that two hour afternoon meeting could be combined with soccer in the morning and a movie by evening time with, perhaps, a stop at Hardees for dinner in between.  The kids would all be riding in a van, each hooked up to personal music playing on their own MP3 player, or watching a video on the back seat TV, while the driver listened to her own tape through the van speakers.  All together – alone.
      Benjamin Hoff writes in the Tao of Pooh3: "Practically speaking, if timesaving devices really saved time, there would be more time available to us now than ever before in history. But, strangely enough, we seem to have less time than even a few years ago. It's really great fun to go someplace where there are no timesaving devices because, when you do, you find that you have LOTS OF TIME. Elsewhere, you're too busy working to pay for machines to save you time so you won't have to work so hard.”

(Stay tuned for part 2 of 3 in the next blog post  or read the whole post now on MindFindings.)

Crazy Busy #2

  What’s changed?        
      So what’s happening with our life – with  our time? Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist who treats folks with ADD, or attention deficit disorder, hypothesizes in his book titled CrazyBusy6 that our society has a new condition he calls pseudo ADD. In simplified terms, people with ADD have difficulty with inhibition -- with inhibiting the need to respond to every stimulus. Everything is interesting and everything demands a response. Our current environment offers a multitude of ways to use time, and it offers us a huge variety of material goods and information. With so much available we don’t seem to know how to stop. 
   One way we try to respond to the numerous opportunities and demands is to multi-task. It used to be that you drove up to the MacDonald’s, gave someone your order, paid the total and waited while they disappeared and returned eventually with your hamburger.  Now just watch the poor harried Mickey D worker as he or she tries to take an order through the headset while holding out his hand to receive you money and tries to think about making change. Sometimes I think the worker is talking to me because he’s making eye contact, but actually he’s talking to the car behind me.                
   What I long for, in my fantasies, are the simpler days of my childhood in Florida. Sometimes I think back to evenings after dinner. The adults would sit out in the yard and chat with the neighbors passing by on their evening walk, while we neighborhood kids got grass-itch rolling around in the dew-dampened lawn until it became so dark we had to go in.    But, if I miss that so much, I have to ask myself, what keeps me from doing that now?
    My sense of being too busy exploded upon me a few years ago with two pivotal events.  Up to that time I practiced a morning routine of waking, making a cup of tea, writing in my journal and reading something inspirational. More often than not, I then took time for meditation and exercise before starting out to face the world. The first event that changed my time use was the tragedy of 9/11. I allowed myself to become riveted to the computer’s almost real-time news. I had to know what was happening. The beginning of my day shifted from the quiet and contemplative to the often disturbing news of the computer and email.  The second factor that changed my life was my mother’s deteriorating health which required more and more of my clock time as case manager.Now, the first of these factors was entirely under my control and of my choosing. But the second was more like severe weather, something I had little or no choice over and had to manage as best I could.
     When it comes to busyness, I would suggest that we each have a decision to make.  One possible decision is to allow ourselves to feel driven by outside events and demands, to take part in as many activities as we can manage to write in our appointment books, while using time management strategies and coping skills to master the situation. Edward Hallowell asserts his belief that the solution to our busy hectic lives “awaits the further proliferation and sophistication of the pressing need for human connections, and the imaginative development of systems that promote them.” The ultimate solution will come when the problem we are wrestling with pushes us to the breaking point - when we feel so disconnected that we are driven to re-establish community.
    If that is your path of choice,  then,  you will will likely rush to get your meditation in between meetings and buy books like Inner Peace for Busy Women,  and the One Minute Manager, and 8 Minutes a Morning to the Perfect Body.  I don’t know if I agree with Hallowell’s assertion that technology will offer us a solution. And I think many people can’t wait for society to reach the breaking point. I am more drawn to the ideas of Wayne Muller and his book, Sabbath7, in which he makes a plea for us to re-establish the rhythm of work balanced with rest. I believe it is time to seek out a conscious balance between doing and being.  It’s time to get our do-be’s in order.

Part 3

  Of course there are times when we can’t rest. If I’m in a row boat about to plunge over Niagara Falls, there is no time to rest until safety is reached. But most of our days are not lived at such a precipice or on the brink of disaster. There are few true crises. Here’s where the age-old serenity prayer comes in handy: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Making changes.  But watch out if you start to make changes!  In family systems therapy we speak about the “change-back” maneuver. When one member of a family system begins to change, it upsets the balance and (unconsciously) the other family members may do things to get back the old ways. For instance, if someone who is obese begins to diet successfully; wonderful, irresistible pies may appear in the house. But it is not only people who may resist your changes. Psychotherapist Harriet Lerner, in her book, Fear and Other Uninvited Guests8 suggests that the universal may have a cosmic change back reaction!
      I experienced  when I began making moves to simplify my life and eliminate some time wasters. Within two weeks, I was faced with increased elder care issues that have required more time than I even possessed. So much for rest and relaxation.  But I intend to persist. And to learn to cope with what is.
      William Doherty5 is convinced that we and our children do not have to live time starved lives. In the UU World he writes of a “Take back your Time” movement. If you are a movement type person, you can Google on that phrase and find out about folks who are challenging the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine.
      Doherty charges us: “To look deeply.” He says, “…this is the starting point for the spiritual life and the life committed to social justice…to look deeply at how we are using the precious, endangered resource of time, and from looking deeply, to be about the task of changing our world.”
      To take back our time, for starters, we might consciously consider what activities we say “yes” to. Do these tasks leave us fulfilled or drained?  Do we look forward to them or dread them?
      Thank goodness everyone in this world has different talents and interests and passions. Let us choose our activities not out of a sense of dreaded obligation, but out of joy in being productive. Let us mindfully consider how many destinations and social activities are appropriate in any 24 hour period. Let us take time to rest as well as to act.

Taking back our time. So, I don’t know about you all, but I want my time back. I’m going to remember that the translation of the Chinese character for busy is “heart killing”.        I’m going home and recommit to my morning rituals. I’m going to think about my do-be’s, my balance between doing and being.
      I’m going to practice a new mantra. Instead of “Om-m-m,” I will practice saying, “No-o-o,” when requested to do things I’m really not too excited about doing.  Jack Kornfield4, when asked what we could do to regain our balance replied, “The advice is contrary to the words of the culture. It is to take time off.  To walk in nature.  To create a quiet place for yourself. To learn an inner, contemplative practice…To learn mindful eating and mindful speech. To find friends who value the life of the heart. To take time to serve others. To live more simply. To listen to music. To do those things that quiet the mind and open the heart.
In the words of  Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song: “Slow down you move too fast. You got to make the morning last.”
  Read the whole essay now at                     
                    © Patricia C Holst     August 5, 2006

1. “Americans in a Hurry, Especially at DMV,” Calvin Woodward 5/28/06 08:57 2006 The Associated Press.

2. “Resisting the Demon of Busyness,” Janet Ruffing, Spiritual Life (Summer, 1995) Lift Up Your Hearts web site

3. Hoff, Benjamin; The Tao of Pooh, Penguin, 1982, p. 107.

4. Kornfield, Jack; Gail Hudson and Jack Kornfield: "Interview with Jack Kornfield" 2000. (updated 5/15/2001) on

5. Doherty, William J., “Let’s Take Back Our Time,” UU World XVIII:5 (September/October 2004): 33-35

6. Hallowell, Edward; CrazyBusy,  Ballantine Books, 2006

7. Muller, Wayne; Sabbath, Bantam Books, 1999.

8. Lerner, Harriet;  Fear and Other Uninvited Guests, HarperCollins, 2004

Educational Solutions, Trish Holst, MS, 687-C Emory Valley Rd, Oak Ridge, TN 37830.