How the modern-day obsession with being busy is hampering your productivity           

According to the Centre For Time Use at the University of Oxford, the amount of work, paid or unpaid, has not changed over the past decades. Then why is it that everyone today seems to be perpetually short of time?

By Khushboo Upreti 

Ask anyone how they are doing and odds are their response will be that they are “busy”. Their demeanour will give off the feeling that they would rather be elsewhere and their “busy” attitude is reflected in the way they talk, their actions and their persistent checking of the phone.

“Busy-ness” is often worn as a badge of honour by most of us. Sadly, life seems to have become more about engagement in an endless stream of activities in lieu of indulging, listening and truly caring.

Why does it happen?

According to the Centre For Time Use at the University of Oxford, the amount of work, paid or unpaid, has not changed over the past decades. Then why is it that everyone today seems to be perpetually short of time?

The answer to this partly lies in the kind of work we now engage in. As we transitioned from an agriculture and manufacturing economy to one based on knowledge, the type of work changed qualitatively. While the first two sectors had certain limits (for instance, one cannot harvest crops till the time they’re ready), in the latter, the work does not really have any time boundaries as we will always have more emails to write and more ideas to follow up on. Unsurprisingly, technology allows us to incorporate more items in our to-do list, be it at home, gym or on holidays. Needless to say, this continual interaction with work leads us feeling overwhelmed.

Tony Crabbe, author of the book, Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much, makes the discerning remark of how we are finite humans with finite abilities wanting to do it all. Clearly, there’s a mismatch between what we wish to get done and what we’re able to get done.

With such pressure, our eye is invariably on the clock. This awareness of time only works to reduce our productivity. Feeling busy thus ends up reducing our efficiency and makes us busier. This attitude goes on to infects our leisure time as well, making us feel that it should be more productively utilised.

Technology too plays a role in eating into our time. All that time we spend whiling away on the phone in between our work is actually snippets of free time we could have joined together to enjoy our leisure time in a more fruitful manner.

In the modern society, our worth has come to be associated with how productive we are. Being busy makes us feel valued and acknowledged. In other words, we value not the person we are, but the activities we are engaged in. Many of us feel we feel that packing our schedules will make us feel more self-assured and confident, though that’s almost never the case.

Additionally, keeping busy allows us to avoid existential questions about life; of contemplating its true meaning and the emptiness which accompanies this.

Is there a way out?

In her book Overwhelmed, Brigid Shulte offers a panacea. We need to realise the implausibility of fitting everything into our schedules. Some important things will invariably get left out. Acknowledgement of this fact helps us to focus on the most important things, thereby prioritising better.

Thus, quit thinking that you should take rest only when you have reached the end of your to-do list. That will never happen. Instead, take time out for leisure. Stitch those slivers of free time together to use it to engage in activities you truly enjoy.


Khushboo Upreti is a writing analyst at Qrius

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