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On busyness and the fear of not being busy enough

One of the fears of retirement or a lack of employment is that it will leave us with nothing to do. I fear this myself sometimes, when I think of the coming day or week and being unable to think of anything in particular to do with it. So far on this adventure, though, not having enough to do seems the least of my problems.

Between the work that I do at Western Sydney University, setting up A Little Research, attending to things that need to be done around the house, and following up on projects that I thought up earlier in the year, I feel at least as busy as I did when working full-time. Many of these projects are small—like fix a broken item or write an e-mail inquiring about something—and it can be hard to keep track of them all.

I do nonetheless sometimes find myself wondering what to do when I have a bit of free time. I surely have things that can be done, as noted on my to-do list, but they don’t quite fit into the time I’ve got, or are waiting for me to complete some other task first (like shopping for the appropriate materials), or I just don’t feel like doing that sort of thing right now. Some tasks might sit on my to-do list for weeks or months through this sort of inaction. Other times (right now is probably one of them) I feel myself so overwhelmed by things to do that the lower-priority things fall off my to-do list and become forgotten when there is time to do them.

Perhaps I need to develop a better way of managing my to-do list. There are currently scraps of paper around my house containing lists of things to do today and this week; things that need to be done sometime but not now; and books to read, films to see and hikes to do. I have other lists stored on my computer of ideas for writing, topics to be researched, and training to undertake. I feel like there ought to be some way of rationalising them all such that I can easily choose the project on which it would be most effective to work at any particular time, but it’s been this way for years and I’ve never thought of one.

It’s exactly the sort of thing that one would think there is an app for, and I’m sure there are plenty of computer-based task managers out there, but the core reason that I have all those scraps of paper is that I’ve found that I rarely look at the lists that are on my computer. The items on paper do (usually) eventually get done, whereas the items on the computer are frequently forgotten because I rarely open the file that contains them and I don’t see them around the house like I do the paper notes.

At the same time, I don’t want to be working on something all of time, or feeling that I’m drowning under a sea of unfinished projects. I would never have come up with many of the projects in the first place had I not had time to sit around and think them up. My main way of ensuring that this happens is to set aside certain times of the week on which I’ll go for a walk, or have a beer, or watch a movie, even when there are projects that could in principle be done. Maybe sometimes the balance is a bit too far in favour of busyness, and other times in favour of idleness, but I would like to think that I can find the proper balance over the long run.

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