The Best Four Years: The silent danger of the busy complex

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Megan Brubaker

In the eye of a hurricane, an eerie silence drowns out the violent storm that surrounds it.                   

Engulfed by the eye wall, not only is the calmness of the eye an illusion of safety, but it shows no mercy, eventually leaving a violent storm behind.

I was swept into the eye of the hurricane earlier this year by currents of color- coded notes, nonstop notifications, and a growing list of commitments. As someone who has never identified as organized, per say, the initial sense of control that came with intricately planned days pleasantly surprised me.

After an aimless first year, unsure of how to spend my time, I could finally fill up my Google Calendar to its capacity. I was finally busy.

I quickly tackled my responsibilities head on. It was go time from the beep of my alarm until melatonin before bed. Days overflowed with meeting after meeting, project after project, and “oh yeah I can do that.”

As commitments began to overlap, I scrambled to make it through the days before hitting the (eye)wall. My days began to feel like speed walks without stop signs, yield to pedestrians or stops for water. Without pacing myself, I was tricked into thinking that I was moving forward. So I kept going. 

In reality, the more and more I fought the imminent storm, the more I veered from my path. I hadn’t made progress. I simply moved, and I finally hit the curb. Check marks and notifications danced in my head as I planned my attack for the week ahead. It was time to do it all again.

Surrounded by my peers who also had a love for storm-chasing, it was easy to fall victim to the busy complex. I define the busy complex as this:

Noun. A phenomenon that convinces us that free time is wasted time. It often leads to an illusion of satisfaction and calmness, but is often followed by a storm of exhaustion, irritability and stalled progress. While the busy complex is difficult to avoid entirely, there are preventative measures that can be taken to ensure that one recognizes its presence and avoids its trap.

The busy complex is productivity’s evil twin, imitating progress and achievements through the illusion of a busy schedule.

When the busy complex hits me, my days begin in control. My alarm clock goes off, and like an automaton, I am programmed for the day. I now belong to my commitments. But not to worry, my commitments have been nicely color-coded and even left me a ten minute lunch break. I spend the day in the eye of chaos, moving so automatically and fast that there is no time to look up to see the storm that surrounds me.

I return to my room, too drained to take a moment for myself. And as my head hits the pillow, I at least know that it was time well spent. But is that the truth?

Time is scarce. And just like gold, the harder it is to find, the more value it holds. But with value comes cheap knockoffs. I often find myself treating my time like a store-bought commodity, purchasing a shiny and new way to spend my days each time I’m given the chance, with little regard for the value that I am gaining. 

As I purchase new commitments, the temporary satisfaction blocks out the storm brewing around me. And just like trends go out of style, the eye of the busy complex doesn’t stay forever. When given a moment to lookup, it often leaves me wondering if it was all worth the cost.

The 24 hours that we are given each morning are not meant to be auctioned off for the highest bidder. In fact, many of the world’s most successful leaders claim full ownership of their time. According to author Robin Sharma, the five percent of people who become highly successful in life first recognize what is and what is not important. They then give 95 percent of their time to make what matters most even better.

By prioritizing what is important, we regain the power of choice. We take the first step to evacuate the storm and take control of our daily commitments.

If you feel windswept by the busy complex, I’m often right there with you. And while we cannot fully avoid its wrath, the first step to avoiding its pull is to recognize its presence.

Sometimes day-to-day life is filled with obligations that we cannot avoid, and that’s okay. I am not encouraging readers to skip class or dentist appointments (I’m actually begging you not to skip your dentist appointment). But with the time that we can control, it is critical that we decide what is pushing us ahead and what is throwing us into a storm, stretching us beyond our means.

Recently, I sat down and Marie Kondo-ed my schedule. I urge you to do the same. If you continually give your time to something that leaves you feeling drained, unfulfilled or out of control, it is okay to take a step back and reevaluate. We are in control of how we fill our days and just because a commitment is impressive or popular does not mean it adds the same value to your life as it may add to others’. 

The busy complex hits like a hurricane, but as college students, many of us have become so conditioned to the storm that we actually enjoy the calmness of the eye. And while the hectic routine can begin to feel normal, we cannot stay in the eye forever. And when we spend too much time in the storm, we come out beat up and unsure of where to go next besides returning to the eye.

But when we reclaim control of our time, we can choose ourselves, look up and fight the storm.

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