Our society glorifies busyness but doesn’t fairly reward productivity. We all lead lives we may term as ‘busy’. The truth of this is in the eye of the beholder. We also go beyond this and assume that people in certain situations are without a doubt busy and we accept this in our consciousness and we also glorify this. For example, an entrepreneur, someone with young children, or a student who going to school but also works. Although we don’t need to outright refute these assumptions, we should challenge why we believe this and confront the way we idolize those who are busy verses those who are productive and effective with what they do.
Let’s start at the beginning where the concept of ‘being busy’ comes to life: when we say it. You run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and you put them the customary query “how have you been?” They look at you, exhale and smile with “busy”. It may be more or less dramatic than this but that is how that person felt to respond to us. This is our moment to realize that we are also primed to give this response, and we often do. Now, none of this way of responding is malicious or necessarily strategic for most people. It is certainly common as part of phatic conversation, that is those surface-level exchanges or small-talk we have all throughout the day. When someone tells us that they have been busy, we infer they’ve been occupied with very important matters in their life and career, that are deeply engrossing and perhaps all encompassing. It also signals they may believe their work and their lives are more significant than others because of how busy they have been. When we hear this, or more graphically, when you see this in TV and film, the response isn’t “I am so sorry to hear that!” It is more commonly “oh yeah? Really? Great!”. We applaud busyness because we believe it is symbolic of importance, or someone thriving in the world, either in their careers or in their personal lives.
Reflect on times you know you’ve responded that way. It may even have been today or yesterday. This response is also common when someone says “How are you? I haven’t heard from you in ages!” We respond “Yeah! Sorry. I’ve been busy with…” Let’s also take a moment to realize that is a very shady and rude response. When we respond this way, we are in effect saying, “It’s true, I COULD have made an effort or prioritized reaching out to you, but I didn’t. Instead, I did literally anything else and now, I don’t have a good answer for you. So, I’ll tell you I’ve been busy because that is what is socially acceptable as an excuse”. When it comes to the people we care about, it is about MAKING the time, not FINDING the time. So being busy doesn’t hold up well too those paying attention.
Now, I am a person who has hustled many things, second jobs, side projects, school and work in my adult years while ensuring I have a personal life and leisure time along the way.
As an entrepreneur and as someone who for the majority of the past 9 years has been a part of many extracurriculars, doing freelance communications work, serving on boards and committees and also having a day job, I certainly could have described myself as being “very busy”, but more accurately, very busy at certain points in time. It’s key to not use busy as an adjective to describe you, but instead to use the term to describe particular seasons and moments in our lives where we have greater volume of things that require our attention and presence. You should be able to look back and pin point a time in your life where you were “super busy”. You should be able to know why and identify a beginning and an end to things that caused you to become busy. If this was recent or current, reflect and ask yourself, I may have been busy, but was I productive?
I often look at my calendar for the week ahead and say, “I have a busy week coming up”. It may be filed with work obligations, an evening course, dinner with a friend, yoga, or a dentist appointment (all admirable and potentially necessary things). During weeks like this for me, this means that I have less leisure time or time for myself This is, however, where the assumption lives. That someone, who is having a busy week, filled with “things to do”, and less time for leisure (for themselves) is more important or ought to be revered for that reason alone. This is of course, illogical. More to the point, someone who consistently does not have enough time for themselves, to reflect, to exercise, to sleep, to decompress and enjoy other pursuits, is most likely to remain consistently busy with diminishing productivity. This is the health and wellness pitfalls of always being busy. As a society, we glorify those who work hard, and play hard. But there has been a countermovement that many of embraced, to work smarter, not harder. In a world where the tide of demands at work and at home grows with the rigour of distractions, our ability to thrive in life rests on our ability to be more productive. We know we cannot add more hours to the day or days to the week, and we know there will be real health consequences if we trade sleep for the low-quality work that we are able to produce while sleep-deprived.
So, what can we realistically do to be less busy, and more productive?
We live in a busy world, but we don’t have to accept that we live busy lives. I support your hustle. You’re working, education, parenting. I also support your making time for that which truly matters to you and supporting each other in leading lives of focus and productivity.