Have you been bitten by the busyness bug?

The busyness bug

Every so often, I read something that resonates so perfectly that I swear someone snuck into my brain and wrote it just for me, based on my convoluted thoughts. This piece fit the bill.

It’s a 2012 New York Times column by Tim Kreider, titled “The Busy Trap.” In it, Kreider writes:

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: ”Busy!” ”So busy.” ”Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: ”That’s a good problem to have,” or ”Better than the opposite.”

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve ”encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

Well, Tim, I’ll let you know something: it’s not just America that’s “busy.” Here in Toronto, everyone I know seems to fit this bill too. We’ve been bitten by some chronic busyness bug, and boy, is it contagious. No one I know just has one job. There may be one that pays the bills, but then there’s volunteering on the side, or freelancing, or running a side-business. Or social networking. Or personal branding at every possible moment through every possible medium. Everyone my age (disclaimer: I’m almost 25) is a self-imposed workaholic. When did that happen?

I’m not immune to this busy bug, by the way. I typically have overlapping stresses each day – the regular busyness of my 9-5(ish) job, the constantly nagging busyness of my freelancing efforts, and the entirely self-imposed busyness of this blog. Sometimes, I will admit, these layers and layers of things-that-must-get-done take a bit of the fun out of… well, everything.

So what’s the cure for all of this busyness that we assume will lift our spirits – but often drags us down?

In Tim’s column, he writes about fleeing town for some undisclosed location that acts as a respite. And I love how the decision impacts him:

Here I am largely unmolested by obligations. There is no TV. To check e-mail I have to drive to the library. I go a week at a time without seeing anyone I know. I’ve remembered about buttercups, stink bugs and the stars. I read. And I’m finally getting some real writing done for the first time in months. It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.

Going away and doing nothing goes against all notions of productivity most of us subscribe to. But maybe that’s the way to get back all that stuff our constant busyness snuffs out – our unbridled curiosity, passion and creativity. You know, the good stuff that doesn’t always fit into a jam-packed Google calendar or Trello board.

What do you think?

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