Are we really as busy as we say we are? Hanna Rosin doesn’t think so.
In Working World, Sherry and I talk about a condition familiar to many, known as “the overwhelm” (a term also mentioned in Rosin’s article). The overwhelm may be not only something we all deal but also something many of us (perhaps unconsciously) strive for:
“Busyness of a certain kind…became a mark of social status, that somewhere in the drudgery of checklists and the crumpled heaps one could detect a hint of glamour.”
This makes sense to me. How many times have I responded to the question of “How’s work?” with the barely-thought-out answer of: “Busy.” And this comes whether I’m actually particularly busy or not. Why am I compelled to characterize things as busy, regardless of reality? Likely because answers like “slow,” “not too bad,” or “you know, I’m actually pretty bored at the moment” aren’t the right ones. I might come across as unengaged, lacking passion, like a slacker. It’s “busyness as a virtue…a conviction that the ideal worker is one who is available at all times because he or she is grateful to be ‘busy.’”
This trap is hard to avoid. We stay late at work or check/answer emails immediately not always because we need to or are required to, but because we think this is a mark of productivity. And this leads us down a path where we confuse being a hard worker with being a smart or talented or efficient one.
One aspect of the international nonprofit world that I am grateful for is a commitment to work-life balance. To ensuring that excess hours and unnatural email response time expectations are not a part of the package. Some of this stems from being in an industry in which salaries are typically lower, and thus some extra “compensation” can be gained from humane hours and expectations. But part of it also comes from working with and around a group of people who are innately curious, restless, and inclined toward a broad interest in the humanities. And what I mean by this is: the international education and exchange community is full of people who like to travel and do other stuff good too. So it’s often not a challenge to get them to listen when you say, “stop working and go do something else.” They’ve likely already booked a plane ticket.
Sherry and I try to give our own antidotes to feeling the overwhelm in Working World: Disconnect. Take a walk, read a book, see a movie, plan a trip (go on a trip!), spend time with family and friends. I think we’d both stand by these recommendations. But I also love this solution from Rosin’s article:
“The answer to feeling oppressively busy…is to stop telling yourself that you’re oppressively busy, because the truth is that we are all much less busy than we think we are.”