My first experience of busy-ness as a status symbol was when I worked at an investment bank in South Africa. Getting into a lift one evening, an occupant in the lift asked another how they were doing.
“Crazy busy!” was the response. They proceeded to share just how busy they both were. It seemed like a competitive sport and I was left feeling I was failing in someway as I didn’t feel busy to the same degree.
Fast forward to this decade and busy has become a badge people wear with pride.
It’s a status symbol.
Claiming busy-ness has a way of making people feel dedicated, committed and hardworking in their job, and most importantly, indispensable. The corporate world is full of busy executives.
But busy and working hard are two different things. I can work hard and be engrossed in my work all day, but that doesn’t mean I am busy the whole day. I can crank through a lot of calls, preparation, proposals, blogs, and still find time for yoga or walking the dog. I’m not busy in that time.
John Robinson, Sociologist at Maryland University is a pioneer in the study of time use diaries, has a great challenge for us all:
“The answer to feeling oppressively busy…is to stop telling yourself that you’re oppressively busy, because the truth is that we are all much less busy than we think we are. And our consistent insistence that we are busy has created a host of personal and social ills–unnecessary stress, exhaustion, bad decision-making, and, on a bigger level, a conviction that the ideal worker is one who is available at all times because he or she is grateful to be ‘busy.'”
People aren’t lying when they claim busy-ness. I believe they think they are. But the sense of busy-ness comes not from the things we do but about how much time we spend thinking about the things we need to do.
We are always on in this digital world. Very few people I know segment work and play. Work feels like it never ends and our addiction to the devices that enable this doesn’t help. Busy has become a status symbol of our new digital age. It is one that doesn’t serve us and we should do without.
We need to actively seek out spaces where we can think. We can create such spaces with a coach, trusted advisor, or structured peer groups. These thinking spaces can also be more offline with friends. However they manifest in your life, we need to be conscious about creating them.
As the old Zen saying goes, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
Let’s find those hours together.
PS Email me if you are interested to know more about a thinking space I am creating in London in 2016