I’m so busy… I don’t know if I’ve found a rope or lost my horse.
Leith planner Vic has just realised that we don’t need to be this busy all the time.
Last week I overheard my dad telling my 11 year old son that when he was his age he had a job which involved him getting himself up at 6am and heading out on his bicycle to deliver bread before going to school. His favourite part is that he had to cycle two miles to deliver 1 morning roll, and the awful woman never even gave him a tip.
Now, I have heard this story 8 million times and never thought much of it but last week I looked at my son and thought “Jesus he can’t even ride a bike never mind get himself up and do 3 hours’ work before school.”
Cue, full blown onslaught of parent guilt and self-loathing…
“Oh god I’ve not had the time to teach my son to ride his bike!
Oh shit I’ve been too busy to begin to instil a work ethic into him!!
F*ck I’ve sentenced him to a life of data entry and broken dreams.”
This blog is about our addiction to busyness.
I have never, ever heard my Dad say that he is too busy, but I have heard him offer to do things for me and my brothers because we are too busy, and heard him and my mum chat about how the kids have such busy lives nowadays and how do we manage it?
When was the last time you asked someone how they were doing and they said:
“I’m doing great, not busy, lots of leisure time, sitting around enjoying life and watching sunsets. Life couldn’t be better?”
Nope they say. “Good, Good, busy, so that’s good.”
So, why is busy good, good?
Nowadays, busyness is a badge of honour. It shows how important and successful you are. Exactly the opposite of the olden days when having leisure time was a mark of success. My dad’s delivery boy wage went to his parents help with the income. Important successful people* let their kids sleep until 8am.
So are we busier today than we were in the past?
The short answer is NO. Admittedly this depends on how you define busy.
Economists call it the 3rd person criterion, whereby they define work as an activity that you would be willing to pay someone else to do for you, or where market substitutes are available.
So, you could pay someone to cook a meal for you. But you couldn’t pay someone else to go skiing or watch television.
So, I could pay someone else to teach my son to ride his bike but I could not pay someone else to instil my work ethic.
But then consider this: could you pay someone to update your Facebook page? Or to tweet on your behalf? People do, and there are many market substitutes available.
Neuroscientists have found that the human brain does not differentiate between answering work emails and checking your social media stuff.
The Centre for Time Use Research tells us that we are exactly as busy as we used to be so it figures that we are choosing to be busy. We have applied an ethos of productivity to parts of life that are supposed to be leisure.
Nobody needs to endlessly tweet, we don’t need to mess with the beauty of nature by sticking an Instagram filter on it, we also don’t need to check our emails in the middle of the night and if we don’t have time to walk our dogs should we really have them?
The think tank Better Life Lab did a survey of workers in Silicon Valley and asked them to divide activities into leisure and chores, many of them listed mindfulness classes and meditation sessions as chores.
Irony doesn’t quite cover it.
It seems we define ourselves through our busyness — whether it is a yoga class, your social network or having a dog you can’t walk so your mum has to look after it even though you’re a 43 year old woman with 2 kids….. (cue onslaught of dog owner guilt..yadda yadda….)
But the outcome of this is that we trick ourselves into an illusion of efficiency by ‘Multitasking’ otherwise known as, doing lots of things badly at the same time and never giving ourselves enough time on the things that matter most.
And this is a problem as old as time. The time that we are frantically filling in order to distract ourselves from ‘The art of living’ as Roman philosopher Seneca wrote about 2,000 years ago in his treaties On the Shortness of Life.
So, I lull myself into a false sense of achievement by ticking off easy tasks like answering emails rather than doing the difficult things in life like teaching my son to ride his bike. How many of us have checked our phones whilst listening to our kids reading homework or having a conversation with friends? Technology has taught us to constantly seek reward and self affirmation from the wrong places.
But the thing that worries me the most is that we are not giving ourselves time to think, we are not spending any time reflecting on anything. Contemplation is not really a thing now and in the industry we work in this just won’t do.
How can we realistically and responsibly say that we have come up with the best possible strategy or the greatest creative idea if we have spent no real time thinking about it because our calendar tells us that we have to go to another bloody meeting or our inbox informs us that we have 26,035 unread emails? How can we have new ideas if we don’t take time to experience new things and allow ourselves to be inspired by stuff that has nothing to do with marketing and commerce.
Maybe this week we should try to master Seneca’s ‘art of living’.
I don’t know, watch a sunset, stroll idly through the city or sit in a pub with your friends and experience it fully, do not share it on FB or syphon the beauty through Instagram. Just enjoy it for yourself and remember it with your human memory and heart.
Maybe we should do that just once this week.
It’ll be a start.
(I however will be busy teaching an 11year old to ride a bike and whilst I’m at it to tie his shoe laces too)
* I do consider my Dad’s parents as both important and successful.