Are you busy?

Today we are reflecting on a question often asked in friendly conversation – “Are you busy?” Typically the answer is an emphatic “yes,” as a warm buzz of satisfaction at a life well spent washes within. Or, is that just a sense of anxiety and panic that there is just way too much to do and too little time!

BUSY has become a badge of honor, even a status symbol. But, perhaps we are missing the point, and our focus should be on being quietly productive, even at times bored, to allow time to ponder and grow.

(Read reduced version via LinkedIn here)

Busy in business is obviously good, as busy must equate to more work, which equates to more revenue, and money and chance of survival. A falsely busy team, without revenue and costs to match, can be a disaster, like paddling frantically against a river’s flow as a waterfall approaches.

A successful business is ultimately not about being busy, but productive and profitable. Or, at the very least solvent and meeting all its obligations. Often this isn’t about being busy, but doing less work well, and likely at a higher price per unit, or doing more work well productively and cost effectively.

Busy parents do all they can to give their children every opportunity. Yet, a child with a busy monkey mind, jumping from one thing to the next, doing more mediocre than good, is likely to struggle with any level of deep learning, practice and developing unique skills and expertise necessary for life success.

“In 2007, in 82% of couple families with children under 15 where both parents were employed, one or both parents always or often felt rushed or pressed for time. Partners in couple families where there were no children under 15 and both people were working were less likely to feel rushed or pressed for time (one or both partners always or often felt rushed or pressed for time in 67% of cases).” 4102.0 — Australian Social Trends, Sep 2009

We can be very busy climbing the career ladder. We all know fellow workmates, busily running around in circles, or those busy working long hours more so to impress the boss than do any real good. Outcomes do not correlate to the sense of busy. Often an oxymoron —  “busy doing nothing.”

Busy doesn’t allow time to be bored, nor permission for the mind to wander. To think, ponder and unlock ideas to approach new businesses and old problems. Great art and creativity does not come from busy, but mindfulness. Busy does not bring happy.

According to OECD figures, we are still working around the same hours we were a couple decades ago. For example, in Australia in 2001 the average usual weekly hours worked on main job was 36.6 and in 2017 it was 35.7. And, one would assume that technology is increasingly making complex computations and processes far easier than ever at work. So theoretically, we should be achieving more at work than ever, so the overwhelming sense of busy comes from how we spend our time beyond work.

However, in many ways, people are actually less busy than ever. We no longer need to go to the bank to do our banking or a shop to do our shopping. We no longer need to visit the ‘Video Library’ to find a movie. Now the latest movies and more are just an easy click, click and watch away, as close as one’s phone. Too often we blame not having enough time, but perhaps we are actually becoming lazy or disorganised, when we likely think quite the opposite.

Humans have ever had 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes each hour, and seven days a week. Much of the busy comes from how we use our precious time. Treating time as more precious than money. Viewing social media addiction and all the many available distractions as a waste of our finitely scarce time.

“I have not got enough time” is a common excuse in our research for people not getting out and about to arts, music and other live performances. People do not like to waste time, but false busy is an epidemic. The false economies of time do not create more outcomes, but often less.

We are less good than ever at quarantining our life and budgeting our time. Smartphones allow us to check our email and take calls from anywhere, and our personal time is spent on work matters with effortless ease. There are more ways to waste time than ever before. Research illustrates that we are actually as busy as we always have been, we just spend our time inefficiently or place unrealistic expectations on ourselves, and everyone loses.

“There are always more incoming emails, more meetings, more things to read, more ideas to follow up — and digital mobile technology means you can easily crank through a few more to-do list items at home, or on holiday, or at the gym. The result, inevitably, is feeling overwhelmed: we’re each finite human beings, with finite energy and abilities, attempting to get through an infinite amount. We feel a social pressure to “do it all”, at work and at home, but that’s not just really difficult; it’s a mathematical impossibility.” Tony Crabbe, author of the book Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much.

Busy is a scary epidemic, as we spend more time doing less, and from this we feel more stressed to do more, with time we do not have. While we have been fearful of the robots stealing our jobs, the bigger dichotomy is that the easier technology seemingly makes our lives, the better humans are at wasting time.

This is a scary trend, and an indicator of a future of more perceived busy, and anxiety associated with it, and not always a life of better and more productive.

The problem with busy is it can get in the way of what matters, be this making progress or living a life worth living. Stopping to smell the roses, or to live in the moment. Surely it is better to have time for quiet and achieve more, than frantically busy often achieving little more than just being busy.

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