I recently read a short blurb in Harvard Business Review on how being busy is becoming a “thing”. The point of the article is that being “crazy-busy” is not only becoming the new norm, but actually valued – at least in the United States.
It got me thinking about how many times of late I’ve asked folks how they were and the answer was “busy”. That in turn got me reflecting on how odd this obsession with being busy is given the vast majority of our history here on Earth. Let me explain with a couple examples.
Throughout the ages having leisure time has been a demonstration of one’s social-economic status. For example, in Ancient Greece pale skin was a reflection of wealth. It demonstrated one did not need to spend much time laboring in the hot, Greek sun, but rather could remain indoors while others worked. This was so highly valued women would use highly toxic, lead-based whiteners to paint their faces in order to make it look like they were well off, even if they weren’t.
A second example is the long-standing myth that those with great wealth may have worked hard to get it, but once the wealth was acquired they simply live a life of luxury. This concept was propagated historically as the interactions between the wealthy and less wealthy were highly controlled. With modern connectivity, we begin to see the opposite is true and simply acquiring great wealth does not mean you don’t do anything further. In fact, some of the wealthiest people are also the busiest.
The Modern Myth
This brings us back to the topic at hand, which is the value we currently place as a society on being “busy”. As more research is done on this topic, it does appear people are placing greater value on being busy. However, I personally wonder if this is really true.
There are three reasons why I’m skeptical
First, “busy” does not equate to anything truly of value, particularly in business. For example, one can be quite busy and at the same time ineffective, inefficient, and non-productive. For this I’m inclined to look more at the outcomes and if they were achieved in a reasonable time frame.
Second, talking about how busy you are on-line may or may not be a true indication of how much you are doing. At this point, it’s obvious that an individual’s on-line persona can be (and often is) quite different from reality. Most of the time this is driven by all of us wanting to seem more interesting than we think we are in real life. I advise anyone who asks, to take individual’s online commentary with a grain of salt.
Finally, truly successful people don’t post about how busy they are. When was the last time Elon Musk, Jeff Benzos, Bill Gates, or any other person who is typically considered professionally successful posted online about how busy they were? They don’t because they are focused on doing.
So next time someone asks you how you are, strive to say something other than “busy”. Not only will it make you more interesting, but may even be better for your health.