Read the excerpt ‘Fake Busy: Nobody Wants to be Vacant‘ from the Offline Matters book to supplement this post.
Taking Care of Busyness
This isn’t the first time a friend has said they’re planning for no plans. De-planning. An irony of contemporary life. Scheduling in spontaneity. It’s an avoidance of commitment that could be part of the overwhelm-reduction effort. The anti-busyness attempts that fall in line with putting your phone away and trying to not email for a week. A calendar-based detox?
These desires to free up flexibility and time seem plausible enough on an individual level. I’ll just keep that week free so I can wake up on the day and see what I feel like doing. That’s all fine until you try to see a friend and they can’t fit in unplanned idea because their schedule is already full. For last-minute to work socially, we all need to be running in the same last-minute mode. Otherwise your newfound no-plans life just butts heads with the rigidity of regular organisation.
In a time where perpetual busyness is a source of pride, to attempt an opposing agenda might find yourself in a stand off. The hot-property hard to catch vs. the sadly unoccupied. Nobody wants to be vacant. Vacancy is pitied. Avoid it if you can. Even if you’re not overworked and filling every moment with an admirable productivity. Fake it.
Fake busy is the malady and strategy of our lives.
The Contemporary Right to be Chosen.
Pretending to be busy to mask the despair. The despair of so much to do, and so little time to do it in. I’m tired. Netflix? Another evening wasted. Think of all the things I could have achieved in that time. New side projects, finishing my book, catching up with that visiting friend who’s in town. Duolingo keeps notifying me I haven’t practiced in a week. I should really call my Mum. It’s okay, I’m chilling in the name of self-care.
This describes a suspension between too overloaded to let go, and too empty to gather the energy. It’s an inertia experienced by the masses. Small meaningless ‘tasks’, endless emails and constant virtual chat, take first order over any sizeable action. They’re a busyness that feels productive. Which is all that matters. If you can keep yourself distracted enough, you’ll make it through the day. Survival 101 in 2020.
These decoy activities will come to light when you’re going for your No Plans trial. But be warned; once removed, what may lay in their place could be far worse than the petty task charade.
Too many options. With the world at your doorstep and an infinite array of possibilities afore – before you even get outside, it all might get too much. With a sudden unfathomable number of routes for what could be done… Cinema? Read? Go for a walk? Visit an exhibition? Get a massage? Go to a yoga class? Bookstore? Take a train somewhere? Clean the house? Job hunt? Journal? Cinema?… an all new anxiety sets in. All the good intentions of the No Plan Project come undone, as the illogical sensation of too much choice sets in. Hello decision anxiety. You weren’t part of the scheme.
Try No Plans if you dare, though the arrival of this uninvited guest might not be what you imagined. Subconscious fret over how much of life feels beyond our control birthed a freakish pull to maximise options. Construct a feeling of power in your everyday. Have a smorgasbord of possibilities before you and seek solace in exercising selection. The Contemporary Right to Choose. With decision anxiety waiting around every corner, the friend of infinite prospects could quickly become foe. Luxuriously wading in options one minute. Trudging through indecisive horror the next.
Watching young adults trying to exercise control over life, we are reminded of the toddler’s moment realising they can affect the world around them. Refusal to eat is possible. And you’ll get a reaction. In the ‘terrible twos’ even the smallest request can become a violent resistance. A premier political assertion of autonomy. Adults regress to acting out in their hunger for agency. Their autonomous victory? Being able to cancel on a plan any time of day. Don’t feel like it? Don’t go. Change of mind? Message to say you can’t make it. The adult act of cancelling plans is far less spectacular than the public tantrum over wearing shoes.
Who said planning for no plans was easy? Who said it was possible? Another difficult trial at opting out. That binary idea doesn’t seem to work. In or out? Off or on? Connected or disconnected? No Plans is the pseudo-effort that might just cause more pain than it prevents. Too extreme. Try finding more viable middle ground. Dissatisfying – I know. ‘Nobody said it was easy. But nobody said it would be this hard’. There is merit in the attempt. Respect for the dream of a post-busy world.