It’s become a sort of religion. It’s definitely regarded as a badge of honour. There are so many people that cram their days full of self-inflicted tasks and deadlines, that they always appear to be busy. If they can keep many balls in the air, juggling them successfully, they feel manically compelled to throw a few more into the air, just to make it challenging. They tweet about it. They blog about it. They make sure the whole office is aware of how busy they are. It’s a status symbol.
More insidiously, it’s a tool for extracting more work out of others. Give them some guilt for not pulling their weight with the same lemming-like dedication that you throw into the pot and you get more work out of them, don’t you? For the same money. Some companies make a point of creating a “sense of urgency” to wring more effort out of their workers, for no additional financial compensation whatsoever and perhaps for considerable financial gain to themselves. Given how unbalanced the equation is, why are people so keen to give the appearance of being so busy?
I think it has to do with showing that you matter. If you’re busy, you must be vital to somebody, right? Maybe, by manufacturing perpetual frenzy, it gives the impression that you are necessary for the smooth running of things. Maybe that is enough to quiet the ever-present angst in your head that you are expendable and replaceable; that you can and will be deemed redundant at any moment. If your life and your livelihood are intricately intertwined and much of your self-image relies on your continued employment in your chosen vocation, then the loss of your work could be devastating to your ego. No wonder so many people donate their free time, sacrifice family relationships, eschew hobbies and pleasurable moments, to look busy. It feels safer that way.
Unfortunately, busy people are frequently ineffective. They’re so exhausted and their personal lives so out of balance that they cannot produce high quality work. They never have time for moments of quiet introspection, imaginative daydreaming, careful, mindful pre-planning or for analysis and careful consideration of what has just happened, so that their next move can be a good one. Their actual work products suffer. Being present isn’t the same as getting the work done.
Artists are not immune from the allure of looking like they’re more in demand than they really are. Instead of creating more art and better art, many artists fill their days with distraction and dithering, dressed up as important activity. Sure, it might be a case of avoidance techniques and displacement activity, to allow the brain to create and percolate, but often not. Instead, the hours and days are wasted, posturing like an artist of real significance, when the truth is that only creating more and better art can achieve that and then, usually, only after the long haul. Making your art at the expense and sacrifice of your relationships and the very soul of your person is another silly way to look busy. You have to be a whole person to make deep art, in my view. A fractured one might produce momentary brilliance, but their career is remarkably short.
It’s interesting to consider that the propaganda we’ve all been fed, which glorifies being busy for the sake of it, might just be a control and distraction technique. After all, if we’re too busy to think things through, we’re not going to oppose any hare brained scheme that somebody powerful wants to impose on the world. We’re so pre-occupied looking like we’re important and matter to the continued functioning of things that we have no time to protest or even hold a viewpoint.
It’s an article of faith, for me, that an artist’s duty is to resist mind control and propaganda and call it out for what it is, so that others are alerted to it. If we’re encouraged to be busy and to look busy, glorifying the activity like it has some kind of moral rectitude about it then be very suspicious. Who benefits?
A populace that is obsessed with being at work on time, putting in the extra hours and spending every waking hour making their employer wealthier is less troublesome than one that asks difficult questions of people that are doing things they really shouldn’t be doing. That keeps the population quiet and under control. It stifles dissent. It prevents meaningful change. It produces uniformity and turns employees into replaceable, undifferentiated commodities, which is ironically the very thing every frenzied busy person fears and works so hard to avoid. Face it. You can’t work hard enough or be busy enough of the time to differentiate yourself from the very busiest. It’s not achievable.
I once sat on a plane with a CEO who let me in on his secret. His company worked shifts. He would get into the office at an extremely early hour, walk around the shop floor talking to everybody on the early shift and then disappear into his office. Later in the day, when the late shift was starting and well into the evening, he would emerge from his office and do the same thing. He would walk around the shop floor talking to everybody on the late shift about their work. He had the whole company believing he was so dedicated to the company that he was the only one that started with the early shift and didn’t leave work until well into the late shift. In the middle, it was assumed he was pawing over spreadsheets, making sales calls and determining vital company strategy. What he confessed, however, was that he spent the hours of the afternoon in his office, with a “do not disturb” sign on his door and his PA taking messages, sound asleep! It was a sham, designed to extract more effort from his workforce, who were fooled into being in awe of his dedication. It’s a wonder (and a lucky thing for him) that his ruse was never found out.
The biggest irony about our obsession with and glorification of busy is that we volunteer our time and sacrifice what is really important to us as human beings, out of fear and uncertainty about our future. Who benefits the most from our self sacrifice and delusional behaviour? The idle rich.
Dwell on that for a moment. The idle rich.