Busy is the New Black

BusinessofBusy

Do you remember the days when a casual greeting to a friend or colleague went something like this?

You: Hi. How are you doing?

Friend: Oh, fine, fine. And you?

That was it. Short, sweet, drama free.

But things change and evolve and just get downright weird. The idea of the ‘simple greeting’ is mere nostalgia at this point. Nowadays, no conversation is complete without one or both parties lamenting the depth and breadth of their busy-ness.

Mind you, it’s often the same people claiming busy-ness who, in the next breath, tell you how they just finished binge-watching the last two seasons of “House of Cards” in preparation for the upcoming season premiere. Is it just possible that we’ve lost track, not only of the real meaning of busy, but also of our own role in the constant perception and sensation of feeling that way?

Many people seem to wear busy-ness like some badge of honor, a competition to see how much can be packed in to a day, a week, or more. A competition that – if you believe the time-crunched masses – measures worth and importance.

Early in my career, I worked with a guy who, almost on a weekly basis, would let me know how many hours he’d worked the previous week. It was often in the triple digits. He didn’t seem to know how to turn the tide and get out of the cycle. In the beginning, I listened attentively. It seemed like something he was genuinely trying to resolve. I tried to understand what was requiring so much of his time and attention. It certainly didn’t seem like a sustainable situation, so surely changes must be made.

He rebuffed any suggestion I made. He and I had similar roles, and while I routinely worked more than 40 hours a week, I couldn’t imagine how one could possibly approach triple digits. Was I not carrying my weight? Was I the reason he was having to put in so many hours?

Perhaps in a parallel universe, everything’s about me, but in this case, it certainly wasn’t. He was just “that guy”. The guy who wants to complain about his load, effort, and loyalty being greater than everyone else’s. The guy who says he doesn’t want things to be that way, but seems incapable of setting and following boundaries. The guy who, in the time he takes to detail all the ways in which he’s in over his head, could have knocked out at least three things on his burgeoning list.

The problem is that now every third person seems to be “that guy”. Whether it’s work, or kids, or even “House of Cards”, too many people are complaining about being busy. Through rigorous statistical analysis (well, perhaps not – I’m much too busy for that!), my guess is that at least half of these people choose to act busy, choose to fill their days and time with laundry lists of tasks, never stopping to let the dust settle.

Of course, sometimes we really are busy, and that’s just the way things are for a bit. Maybe you’re moving house, starting a new job, preparing for a baby, or planning a wedding. Those life changes will push the most balanced of us a bit off-kilter. But it’s temporary. We plan for it, suck it up, and move on.

When busy becomes a lifestyle, one that we complain about at the same time we’re perpetuating it, we’re heading toward dangerous territory. It’s almost hard to imagine what busy would have looked like in Socrates’ time. I mean, they didn’t have the power of flight or 24-hour fitness centers, much less the Internet. But he wasn’t wrong when he described a continually busy life as barren. It’s an uncontemplated life. Perhaps, it’s an impressive list of completed tasks, but all the meaning, importance, and value is sitting on our surfaces, waiting to be brushed off as we flit to the next thing on the list.

Breathe deep. Just sit for a minute and let your mind wander. “House of Cards” will wait.

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