“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.”

Businessman multitaskingWell said, Tim Kreider in the New York Times online (June 2012, I’m right on the pace as ever….).  Tim laments the madness of the world too many of us inhabit.  I so agree with him, and increasingly find myself looking at many of my fellow humans as a kind of spectator.  At one level I’m not keeping up (certainly my life doesn’t look as manic and rammed as others’), and maybe at another I’m getting wise (or is it just lazy – I sometimes wonder!).  Tim makes a fabulous point which I think is central to what used to be called Time Management (and what I call Working Smart):

“The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.”

Like Tim, I was a latchkey kid, and had several hours of unsupervised and unstructured time every afternoon after school before my parents came home from work.  It was time to chase rabbits in the hedgerows, to swap Beano comics with friends, lie in the fields and see what faces we could see in the clouds and mime along to the latest Beatles release.  Parents who left their children to their own devices in this way today would be on Social Services‘ “wanted list” in today’s society, and yet I would argue it allowed me to explore life in a creative and meaningful way which was crucial to my outlook later in life.

I wonder whether busyness is a form of insecurity.  Is it an attempt to appear important?  One thing I have noticed in people who have impressed me is that they make choices:  they decide what is important at any one time, and stick with that decision.  They are present:  if they’re talking to you, they are focussed, they are listening, not watching their iphone for the next email.  They do one thing at a time, and do it well.  How good are you at this?

I work closely with an American owned organisation where their ability to execute what they call “the diving catch” is an honoured cultural norm.  They work at the speed of light (in many cases when they should be going at snail’s pace, for instance when listening to customers), and, being a global organisation in the fullest sense of the word, many of their employees are “at work” around the clock.  Encouraging more idleness here would be like asking them to write with the wrong hand.  Very hard to go against the flow when such a strong culture is embedded.

Have you noticed how dysfunctional you are?  I’ve taken up people watching in pubs and restaurants, looking at what the dreaded handheld device is doing to relationships.  I recently saw 4 people walk into a pub, clearly good mates out for a get together.  They sat down with their drinks, and within 5 minutes all 4 were on their device at the same time.

Hände mit Handys im RestaurantIn Houston last year, two girl friends meeting up for dinner, sitting outside in the evening sunshine.  They shared a pizza, and when they’d finished it I saw both staring at their devices for a good 5 minutes in total silence.  So they have both concluded that checking Facebook updates of their overly extended Friends network was more important than talking to each other.  How barking mad is that, not to say downright rude?

As Kreider says, Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.”  I couldn’t agree more.  This year I have set myself a goal of not doing any more work than I need to, as measured by billable days.  Instead of chasing anything that moves, I am aiming to be on the road no more than I need to, allowing me to explore other ventures and initiatives which might be equally, if not more, rewarding.  I can already see the fruits of this, and we’re only in week 5!

This week let me invite you to consider whether some aspects of your busy schedule are in fact self imposed, and whether a rethink is in order.  If you are feeling out of control, burnt out, or questioning what the point of all this activity really is, maybe some idleness needs to be injected.

Have a read of Kreider’s article, because I think he really nails it.  It’s such an important topic (although not an Urgent read, so you will need to plan in some “idleness” in order to get round to reading it!).

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