I’m so busy I must be important

Ever wonder why when you ask someone how they are the reply is, “Busy” we nod and agree that yes, we are busy too even if we may not be? Busy is worn as a badge of importance and success. It’s as if you’re not busy, you lack value and are not contributing to society as a whole. People “hustle”, or “work their side gig”, and we acknowledge with a little sympathy their level of activity as a measure of their importance. But how true is this?  Are we disguising our inability to manage our time and activity levels with updated jargon to make overwork appear to be a good thing? Why do we candy coat the fact we are working two or more jobs with the perception that one of them is us “hustling?”

In Episode 69 of NPR’s Hidden Brain, the idea of busyness being worn as a badge of honor is discussed briefly as part of the overall concept of value based on public perception. Think about the last small talk conversation you had with an acquaintance. If you asked them, “How are things going?” and they replied, “Good.  Not much is going on so I’m just taking it easy” how would you react?  Perhaps a twinge of jealousy at their available time because you’re so busy.  Maybe a question or judgement about why they don’t have more going on? Or just maybe a thought, “Wow, I have so much going on. Too bad he/she can’t achieve more like me. I need to do more things to make sure I’m even more busy, because busy is where happy is.”

It’s the last sentence where the lie lies. Some people are exceptionally happy when they’re busy; running full speed all the time. Others, not so much. What kind of a person are you?  Do you prefer to be busy, always ticking off boxes and updating your lists as you knock down one task after another? Are you a person who would rather savor your idle time over finding ways to fill the hours? It is the false equivalence that busy people are happy people that trips up so many.

We wait longingly for the idle paradise of our vacations, but then take our computers with us to check on email and statues because, if we’re not busy, we’re not valuable. Many cultures encourage and praise the concept of idle time as a matter of success, or at least did in the past. We’ve taken the concept of working to have non-work time and turned it into non-work time being a nigh impossible goal. This isn’t just employment focused either. We watch our children’s sporting events with smartphones in hand, checking social media and text messaging to line up the next activities for the day and week. We measure our lives based on our activity level over our satisfaction level. What can we do to flip this equation and focus on the value of not being busy?

If you want to truly revel in being productive you have to look at completed tasks as successful accomplishments, not as openings to stick something in their place. Taking time to not “do” anything but rather focus on resetting your mind, your body, and your goals can be the best “busy work” you could do for yourself. The next time someone asks how you are, try answering “Busy, but I’m getting better” and see how they react. It’s a good use of your time no matter what.