When did being busy become a badge of honor?

When did being busy become a badge of honor?
curved ramp bridge with busy traffic vehicles motion blur

We’re all busy, aren’t we?  Sometimes it seems life zooms by at the speed of blurry light.  Especially this time of year—holidays over, the new year in full bore, all those resolutions and goals begging for attention.

curved ramp bridge with busy traffic vehicles motion blur
busyness badge of honor

Sometimes I’ve felt as if days and weeks and months peeled off the calendar without my ever knowing it.

You’ve had those sections of time, right?  When one day you look up and think, where the heck did that year go?

But does being busy really earn us that gold star?

Many of us grew up with the old notion that idleness is the devil’s workshop.  Or any variation on that theme.  And while this may be true for children (which is why kids hear it so much :), does the sentiment hold true in adulthood?

We see busy people as the important ones, no?  I mean, he’s so danged busy, he must be truly significant!  Anyone who’s worked in the Dilbert principle of corporate America knows that to seem calm and on pace can be seen as non-essential.  Although thank goodness this is changing as corporations become more conscious of what actual productivity means.

Even long ago when I worked in non-profit, where we enlisted volunteers to carry out the tasks of the organization, the mantra was: “Find the busiest person on your board and ask him to do the biggest job.”  The idea being that busy folks got more done.

Which indeed, they might.

Or, all that busyness may be just that—someone chasing his own craziness around the room.

Because have you ever gotten to the end of a day, week, month, not knowing where it went, being so busy you hardly remembered your name, and couldn’t point to exactly what you’ve accomplished?

What, exactly, did you get done in all that time?

And if you ran like a lunatic in order to save time, cutting corners, always busy, when were you planning to use the time you saved?  And to what end?

I’ve found myself in places where I’ve worked hard and fast and long, “saving” time in theory for more of it on the weekend.  Only to find when the weekend came, I was too exhausted to enjoy it!

How insane is that.

I love what author and popular speaker on creativity, philosophy, culture, and business Scott Berkun said about this:

“This means people who are always busy are time poor. They have a time shortage. They have time debt. They are either trying to do too much, or they aren’t doing what they’re doing very well. They are failing to either a) be effective with their time b) don’t know what they’re trying to effect, so they scramble away at trying to optimize for everything, which leads to optimizing nothing.”

That got my attention.  I know that when I’m too busy, I miss the nuances.  I.e., I’m not doing what I’m doing to the best of my ability.  That kinda sucks.

And something I know for true is that when I’m talking about how busy I am, then I’m not actually doing the work in front of me.  I’m just talking.

Productivity is of course the opposite of perpetual busyness.  I know this oh-so well with writing. Talking about it gets me nowhere.  Actually doing it takes me to the moon.  You have to in fact produce words on the page in order to be a writer.  Otherwise, well, you’re not.

And creativity just can’t live in that state of constant movement.

Many studies have been done on this, and I love the one by Karen Gasper and Brianna Middlewood of Pennsylvania State University.  They found that participants who were bored outperformed those who were relaxed, elated, or distressed on creativity tests.

Yep, this is something I know.

This past year has been a truly trying one.  I’d bitten off a hair more than I could chew, for the best of intentions, of course.  And even though I knew where this would lead, well, I did it anyway.

Until, well, I couldn’t.

By the end of most weeks I was panting.  Did I get a lot done?  Yes.  Was it the very best of me?  Hm . . .

But worse, I was doing a lot of talking about writing.  And not actually writing.  Which is of course where I live.  Creativity had, however, flown to Brazil for the season.

Luckily enough, I’ve faced this demon before.  So, I faced it again, and reorganized my life once more.

Because even if you have a dream, a goal, a prize for which you’re working hard, if you don’t take time to enjoy your life, what’s it all for?  And if creativity is key to your work (and honestly, isn’t it to all of us?), then fostering that is paramount.

So next time you play hooky in whatever busyness your life is about, rather than feel guilty, pat yourself on the back.  You’re feeding your creative muse.  And that’s what the world needs more of.

How do you stop the busyness in order to accomplish more?

This Post Has 41 Comments

  1. I find that when I spend few hours working during the day, I achieve more. When I prioritize the things I love to do and fit my tasks around that, I am happier and more productive. It’s hard to realize that working less gives better results. It’s true though.

    1. I’m learning that, Beth. It’s been a tough lesson for me! LOL.

  2. Nice post, Susan. It’s a constant battle, for sure. Easy to get busy and not be accomplishing what you want to. I’ve heard the same about boredom—interesting, eh? If only we had more time to be bored! (ha)

    1. Maybe we should make a pact, Colleen, to seek out boredom! All my study of creativity backs it up 🙂

      1. Ha ha. I like that idea!! Yes, I’ve seen that in the research too…hmmm.

  3. I am learning to say No to things that are not important. If I don’t have to do it I Say no so I Can get more things done that are important to me.

  4. Such a great reminder and one to hear often. I will feel anxiety or shortness of breath when I overwork myself – and all my energy is in my head. I have a keen sense of when enough is enough and to be more in my body. I have learned to trust myself that I am doing enough and I am enough! 🙂

    1. I love the idea of paying attention to, and being in your body, Teresa. What a great litmus test!

  5. Wow! This post really speaks to me and I love “all that busyness may be just that—someone chasing his own craziness around the room.” It is so true, I have been trying to create the busy to generate the business for me. I started teaching on weekends and thought, OMG when am I going to have time for myself? Then it hit me..I must schedule time during the week to do this.. I was raised to believe you work hard Monday to Friday and the weekends are when you rest. Times have changed owning my own business and, now I create my days of rest!

    1. Isn’t it wonderful to create your own days of rest, Karen? I find I treasure and protect those–no matter what. Love that you do so!

  6. We have all learned to live with the never ending To Do list. I can’t even remember if it was ever any different.. It’s a huge problem and it’s soul sucking!

    1. That danged To Do list. Now and then I just want to shoot it! And you’re so right, Verushka–it can be soul sucking. When I’m there, I do what has to be done, and set the rest aside.

  7. My friends and I talk about this all the time, Susan! Busy doesn’t actually have to equate to accomplishing anything of value. Your comment about chasing your own craziness around the room describes some days perfectly. As you mentioned, it’s one thing to talk about doing the work and another to actually be doing the work. Some of the best advice I’ve seen to stop the busyness is scheduling your down time and making it nonnegotiable. When you step away to recharge, you come back clear-minded and full of new energy!

    1. I love that Meghan–scheduling down time and making non-negotiable. Unless the house is on fire or something. Otherwise, that time truly is my time. And I love that all the research backs up that we return with more energy and a clearer mind! So now we have no excuse not to do so 🙂

  8. Girl, you are so right. Why are we always so busy being busy… versus focusing on what is important in life, our family and friends, our health and the aspects that make us money in our biz.

    1. And isn’t it when we focus on what really is important, that a lot of that busyness falls away? Great point, Kristen!

  9. I’ve recently had very similar conversations with my husband and my friends. I once heard a statement that I try to remind myself of, “I don’t want to be busy, I want to be fruitful.”

    1. What a great statement, Phoebe. I’m going to type that out and tape it to my computer monitor! Thank you.

  10. I find when I am less distracted with all the busy day to day activities from clients, I can stop and think. So, I try to gather client tasks at a particular time in the day, knowing that I will have time the rest of the day to work on something creative and work on tasks for my business. It works pretty well. Sometimes it goes off schedule and that’s ok too. Great topic, thanks for sharing.

    1. What a great way to organize your day, Sabrina. Love the carrot of being able to ‘work on something creative . . .’ Ah, heaven!

  11. Personally I love to have a lot of things on the go and often find it perplexing when I ask my mother or daughter what they are doing and they reply, “Relaxing”. Yikes! Because I am so stimulated by the world around me, I find it challenging not to keep busy. Watching an engaging movie really does “slow me down” and take me away from the busy all around me. My brother remembers me as always having something I was “doing”, so I am not sure if I am busier now then when I was younger, or if that is just my style. My creativity is stimulated by the world around me, so the fact that “bored” people often score higher on creativity tests, was quite fascinating. Slowing down is healthy…I know this. Especially in a world where we are bombarded by external inputs 24/7. Appreciated the conversation in this piece, Susan! Thanks.

    1. You just exude energy, Beverley! I think that is just you. And, it obviously works for you! We’re all different beasts, no?

  12. I think this is very true. I occasionally work at a Catholic hospital that features a sign in the lobby that says, “Stewardship in all things.” For me, that includes time. Of course, I have lots of room for improvement – occasionally, it does seem that I’m chasing my tail!

    1. Oh, I love that motto, Joan! I’m going to make a sign out of that and put it up where I see it often. Thank you!

  13. I had a full day away from work & computer yesterday and was feeling concerned I had much to catch up with today. A midday off the computer is … was going to say nerve wracking but not so. Refreshing, freeing, delightful. I didn’t even make a to-do list for today. I’m slowly making my way and I have enough time. I even took a few detours to watch reports of the NY Fashion week that just started. And I read a blog about weddings that took place in the NY snow storm anyway. I wandered and stayed relaxed. I just might leave my desktop for a few hours and work on a necklace that has become challenging. So your blog was exactly what I needed to read this morning.

    1. You are always a beacon to me, Roz! I just love that. Isn’t it funny how when we start getting overwhelmed, the anti-dote is to relax 🙂

  14. I recall a story by a copywriter explaining how he wrote. When given an assignment, he would tell the client that it would take several days to write. On Monday, we would review the assignment and make a few notes and then go fishing. He would do this every day until Friday, when he would complete the assignment and then send if off. When asked how he could waste the client’s time when obviously he could write the copy in one day, he said what do you think I was doing when fishing? Part of the time I was fishing and part of the time I was writing copy! Creative time doesn’t have to be busy time.

    1. Absolutely, Joyce! Especially with creative endeavors, we need that time to let our minds relax and go deeper. That’s the first assignment I give to my editorial clients too–forget about it for a while. Still your mind. And let your subconscious do the work 🙂

  15. This is a very interesting thought! I’m always proud of how ‘busy’ I am, but should really take a look back at all that!

    1. It really helps to back away and relax some, Victoria!

  16. Oh, Susan, this is one lesson I can relate to well and can honestly say I learned! I do my best creative writing when I’ve done well…nothing! Think back to your childhood years, in the hot summer, no school, forced outside to play and what comes to mind? All those crazy, creative, fun games you and your best friends created because you were bored out of your ever loving mind! Thanks for reminding me I did the best thing for myself this year! Terrific post!

    1. Good for you, Sheila! And isn’t it the absolute truth–that “boredom” just fosters our creativity. I’ve resolved to schedule more of it in 🙂

  17. Its all about being organized. Somehow I get more panicked if I start talking about busy schedules!

    1. So true, Priya! All I need do is think how busy I am and everything turns to chaos. That’s when I stop and do a whole lot of nothing. Amazing how much more refreshed and productive I am after that 🙂

  18. Hi Susan! I finally got a chance to respond to this post because I’ve been so busy—hahaha! Actually I was down in Baja MX for the weekend just relaxing and enjoying myself. But the thing is, I did feel a little guilty for not being more “productive.” Isn’t that part of the problem? I think something that works for me is using what I’ve learned from LOA (Law of Attraction). If I can stop and ask myself if I am trying to row upstream rather than “go with the flow” then I am only not being my best creative self, but I’m blocking my happiness too. There is so much in LOA that is really helpful to me that reminds me that whatever I focus most on–like how busy I am–that in itself creates more busy-ness. Thank you for all your good reminds and may all of us writer remember it tomorrow morning 🙂 ~Kathy

    1. Well, Kathy, you’ve had a thing or two to do of late! Any time you publish a book, things go a bit insane, and feeling guilty for down time is just part of the whole ball of hopefully not melting wax! I just love your book, by the way. I hope everyone reads Rightsizing: A SMART Living 365 Guide to Reinventing Retirement
      And I love your takeaway from LOA! I too have an issue with rowing up stream, but am learning to float and flow 🙂 I’ll remember that tidbit as well! Thank You.

  19. Hi Susan, What you said is certain in our society–slowing down is not a one-time cure. We who like being productive need to revisit getting back in balance whenever we start feeling overwhelmed again.

    Thankfully, each time it gets easier as we remember the familiar feeling of relief–“Oh yes! I feel so much better when my time is under control again.”

    1. So true, Jan–it really does get easier as we go. Like any muscle, the psychological/spiritual one gets stronger with practice!

  20. Oh Susan,. I love your phrase “chasing his own craziness around the room”! That is how we all may feel at times.

    Most people do say, “I’m really busy,” with a bit of pride at how busy they are. We are all feeling the pressure of our very fast-paced world. But we always have a choice about what fills our own schedule. My wish is that we drop that Busy Badge of Honor. We are not in a contest to see whose schedule is the most jam-packed. No on really wins that contest.

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