“How are you doing? How’s your summer going?”
“I’m just so busy! And I thought I was going to have so much time this summer to catch up on life, and, I just got too busy, and now it’s almost gone!”
I would venture that every person in the working world had some version of this conversation in the last few weeks. We are all really really busy. And we like to talk about it.
A few years ago, the author Tim Krieder penned an op-ed in the New York Times, “The Busy Trap”, which described this exact phenomenon, writing that “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness.” The column generated extensive interest, with many wondering if being busy was actually all that we implicitly crack it up to be.
I think Krieder makes valid points, but I probably prescribe to the exact philosophy that Krieder decries. I occupy my time with a myriad of activities, partially to avoid actually thinking. So I’m not going to rail against being busy. But I am going to rail against talking about it all the time.
I recently came back from a 4-week trip to East and South Africa. I quickly realized that, although many people are productive, they do not feel the need to talk about it all the time. When I asked people how they were doing, they talked about their family, their jobs, their actual mood.
And then I came back to the United States, eager to catch up with friends and colleagues, and hear about their last month. And all of them had apparently spent the entire time being really busy. I like talking to all of these people, and I do like hearing about what they have been up to. I just wish we didn’t constantly have to preface every conversation with a remark about our business.
I think there are two main issues with our tendency to describe how busy we are:
- It can risk coming off as presumptuous. When a person starts a conversation by describing how busy they are, it can almost seem like they are doing a favor by having the conversation in the first place. The interpretation can be “I’m so busy- I barely have time to have this conversation (and we should make sure it’s a quick one at that).”
- It masks actual feelings. By answering “busy” to someone’s query of your general state of being, you do not have to answer how you actually are doing, describe your actual feelings, or talk about what you actually have doing.
I realized that this happened a lot at Generation Citizen, and I was very much to blame for it. There is always going a lot at GC, but people would have a tendency to think that their task of the day superseded everything. Therefore, it was okay if one was late to a meeting or e-mailing during a conference call or leaving a messy office in their wake.
I was a terrible perpetrator of this- I do travel a lot, and so I would constantly tell my own staff how busy I was. Thus, they could be nervous to actual schedule time to talk because they would be intruding and making my own very busy schedule even busier. The fact is that I wasn’t necessarily even busier than them. One of my colleagues just had a son, and has another 4-year old at home. I guarantee you that he’s actually busier than me. He just doesn’t talk about it.
And so, coming back from vacation, I am trying to avoid using the word, period. And I am challenging my staff to do the same. I do think it’s sort of working- internally. People are more respectful of each other’s times. Personally, I’m being challenged to answer the “How are you?” question with something a little more honest than “busy”. I do fail, though, frequently, probably most often when talking to my parents, needing an excuse for waiting five days after their phone-call to call back.
It would be hypocritical if I called for Americans to be less busy- I get anxious if I have any time of the day that I’m not acting productive. But what would happen if we talked about it a little less?
– Scott Warren
Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.