An interesting essay in The Dallas Morning News by Brigid Schulte a Washington Post columnist, was all about how busy people are, and she recommends that people stop thinking that having a full schedule is a virtue.
Since that flies in the face of the old adage my grandmother told me, “Idle hands are the devil’s workplace,” I was intrigued and had to read the rest of the article.
Recently, Schulte went to Fargo, N.D. to meet with a focus group that had been organized by Ann Burnett, a communications professor at North Dakota State University, and thought that a rural area would be more relaxed and laid back. Schulte discovered just the opposite. Apparently this busyness of life was affecting people there, too.
According to research Schulte did for her book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, being incredibly busy has become some kind of badge of honor and life is way too busy for too many people. In her recent article Schulte wrote, “People now tell pollsters that they’re too busy to register to vote, too busy to date, to make friends outside the office, to take a vacation, to sleep, to have sex. Another found that the compulsion to multitask was making us as stupid as if we were stoned.”
For her research on this phenomenon of busyness, Burnett studied holiday letters she’s collected from the 1960s to the present and noted certain words and phrases that surfaced starting in the 1970s and 1980s — “hectic,” “whirlwind,” “consumed,” “crazy,” “constantly on the run” and “way too fast.” The frequency of those words in holiday letters continues to increase.
Schulte wrote, “People compete over being busy; it’s about showing status.” And she quoted Burnett, “If you’re busy, you’re important. You’re leading a full and worthy life,” Keeping up with the Joneses used to be about money, cars and homes. Now, she explains, “if you’re not as busy as the Joneses, you’d better get cracking.”
One of the things I found most interesting in the article is that all the busyness can actually be counterproductive, especially for those of us who work in creative fields. Schulte wrote, “Even as neuroscience is beginning to show that at our most idle, our brains are most open to inspiration and creativity — and history proves that great works of art, philosophy and invention were created during leisure time — we resist taking time off. Psychologists treat burned-out clients who can’t shake the notion that the busier you are, the faster you work, and the more you multitask, the more you are considered competent, smart, successful. It’s the Protestant work ethic in overdrive.”
In a companion piece by Hanna Rosin, she wrote that one simple antidote to feeling so overwhelmed with busyness is to simply stop telling people how busy we are. She cited a study by John Robinson, a sociologist who is known as Father Time because of his studies of how people use time. “Robinson doesn’t ask us to meditate, or take more vacations, or breathe, or walk in nature, or do anything that will invariably feel like just another item on the to-do list. The answer to feeling oppressively busy, he says, is to stop telling yourself that you’re oppressively busy.”
So, what do you think about all this busyness? I know that the pressure to be a marketer and promoter as well as a writer has stressed me out at times. Schulte recommends that we make time for quiet and leisure and the devil be damned. I agree. So I will go have lunch with a friend today.