I only have five minutes to write this. My to-do list is the size of War and Peace, and my inbox is buckling. So, as I dictate the article to my PA, let me ask you two questions; when did busyness become such an accolade, and why is it the corrosive kind of busyness we crave the most?
I remember a simpler time, when I didn’t have to pay someone to slap me for being unproductive in order to plough through tasks. Those were the days. Perhaps it’s just a side effect of becoming an adult, but it seems to me that busyness has become the common currency for buying respect. I even congratulate people who tell me they’re overloaded and struggling under the weight of 101 tasks: “It’s better than having nothing to do.” I suppose that’s why we’re eager to share news of our workloads – there’s a certain perceived value that gives us lofty positions among friends and colleagues. Unfortunately that makes it all too easy for us to exaggerate, and revel in our busyness.
I should know – I make the worst busy-boast of them all. Chatting to a friend about hectic schedules, I casually dropped in the tantalising fact, that I’d recently been in five different countries in one day. I immediately laughed at how stupid I sounded. Despite technically being true, and sounding interesting, I hadn’t really been busy that day – I was just sitting in a car on the way back from a meeting. Since when did I feel the need to elaborate in order to gain respect? Also, I don’t think I’m alone in doing it – so when did culture tell us to start?
If work is hectic and you’re in demand, there’s every chance you’re a high-flying hot-shot. Working 10 hours a day makes you better than someone who works eight. Having a full inbox means you have people relying on you, sitting at their computer begging you to respond. At church we’re told to get stuck in, and society quickly adopted the “devil makes use of idle hands” mantra.
Obviously not all busyness is bad, so how do we make sure we have right perspective on the ways we use our time?
In the 1970s, a psychological study examined how people organised their priorities. Students from a Bible college were given five minutes to prepare a speech on a certain theme, and then told to go to a nearby location to present their talk to a waiting audience. Some students were told they were late for the speech, and others were told they had some spare time. On the way, they encountered a man who was clearly in need – rough appearance, coughing and choking – and those who were late were four times more likely to ignore him. Ironically, the topic some of the students were asked to talk on was the Good Samaritan.
Busyness can easily cloud our perspective of what’s important to us. With society placing a high value on busyness itself, is this another example of having to be in the world but not of the world?
In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster talks about how “the slavery of ingrained habits”, driven by willpower and determination, has a detrimental impact on our spiritual lives. He writes: “In the midst of an exceedingly busy ministry, Jesus made a habit of withdrawing to ‘a lonely place apart’ (Matt 14:13). He did this not just so he could be away from people, but so he could be with God… and he beckons us to do the same.”
Here’s one for my to-do list: make sure you’re investing the right amount of time, in the right areas, for the right output. And stop boasting about being busy, you sound like an idiot.
Image by Fran Flores via stock.xchng images.