THE HAMSTER SYNDROMEdays-36581-hamster-my-photo
Do you ever feel like you’re a hamster running a never ending wheel of activity and never quite getting caught up. I do. People ask how I am and I’m tempted to say “Busy.” I’ve been trying to eliminate that answer as an automatic response because I realize that it’s usually just a variation of “Look how important I am. I have lots to do.” When I pause enough to consider the “I’m busy” comment, I realize that most people I know are busy and it doesn’t really mean that what fills my time is any more important than my neighbor’s time. Instead of wearing “busyness” as a badge of honor, I’ve started to reframe it as a weakness. It is a myth that I will ever get completely caught up – forever.

5 Busyness Myths that keep me stuck racing on the hamster wheel
1. I must do it all.

The weakness is the inability to prioritize.
Time - person2. My value depends on how much I do.
The erroneous idea that the more I accomplish the more valuable I am and people will like me
3. Society respects busyness.
Honoring busyness is really a smug version of “Look how important I am!”
4. I will eventually get caught up.
The assumption that I can conquer today’s “To Do” list and actually get caught up defies all historical evidence. I know that I will soon just add more tasks onto my list and soon be behind again.
5. Being responsible means doing lots of things and doing them fast.
Being responsible means following through on my commitments but also not biting off more than I can chew.

As I realize the folly of figuring out how to do things faster, more efficiently, and just do more, I’ve found:

5 Ways to get off the hamster wheel
1. One In – One Out

Apply this principle of pruning household goods to my commitments. Before I say yes to a new commitment, committee, or volunteer activity – Am I willing to let go of a current involvement?
2. Cut myself down to size
No matter how talented I am, I can’t save the world. I can do somethings, but not everything. Sometimes I take on more than I should because I’m flattered to be asked or I think I can do it better than another, or I’m afraid if I don’t do it nobody will. This is faulty thinking that suggests I’m the only one who can do a task. Sometimes, leaving a task undone, permits a hole that another person will eventually fill, once the need is evident. It’s a good mentoring and parenting principle.
3. Not all things are equally important or urgent
I may want to organize my spice rack, check my email, or finish off a task but the person in front of me takes priority. Be it a child who needs attention or a spouse who feels neglected, relationships come first. After loving the people around me, then the difficult task of prioritizing the essential over the “would be nice to do” kicks in. We Type A personalities tend to think we should be able to do it all. That’s what makes us feel important. The real wisdom, however, is having the guts to prioritize and skip the non-urgent.
4. Divide and Conquer
Today I have 17 things that I need to do before I leave for Rome in 9 days (and that doesn’t count calling my mother!) I feel overwhelmed since many of the tasks depend on getting information from other people. This morning I realized if I could do at least 2 tasks a day I’d be OK. I may not have time to frost my hair but I’ll get the important stuff done.
5. Take Time Out First
It may seem like quiet time alone is non-productive time. For us work-a-holics it may seem like taking time to rest, to play, to pray is a waste of time. The human spirit needs time and space, however, to rejuvenate and ponder the meaning of it all. My own practice has been to take time to pray as soon as I awake in the morning. Occasionally, I delay it thinking I’ll get dressed first or check email, or whatever seems so urgent that I have to do it first. Inevitably the day slips away and I’m back on the hamster wheel. Starting with some quiet open space reminds me of why I am here and what’s really important. It also helps me with point #3 – prioritizing what really must get done this day.

Some people are naturally laid back and need to procrastinate less. That’s another problem for another day although I think some of the same principles may apply. Let’s face it, we humans will probably never be fully caught up. To chase after that goal will just make us weary. Downsizing our expectation of finally getting caught up may be a healthier way to live. What works for you?

PS: One tip that will both save you and your FaceBook friends time is to commit to not posting more than 1 thing a day. (This is a somewhat unrelated pet peeve of mine but as much as I enjoy catching up on friends’ lives and getting inspirational messages, it can be a time hog. TV used to play this role in many of our lives. I think Facebook has taken its place. No more than One-A-Day seems to be a good rule of thumb to me.)