The Problem with The Glorification of Busy

I’ve always considered myself to be a ‘busy’ person and saw this as a good thing. I’ve always felt a need to be productive and felt dissatisfied with my day when I’m not. And, I’ve always thought of people who work long hours as admirable. But since starting Slow Living LDN., I’ve started to realise that answering with ‘busy’ every time someone asks you how you are doing is not an achievement. Does this sound familiar? It’s time to talk about the problem with the glorification of busy.

Cactus on windowsill

Stress and the City

Thrive Global, among others, likens the glorification of busy to wearing a badge of honour. You’re keen to parade it and prove just how stressed you are and how little time you have. According to AXA’s 2017 UK Stress Index, 38% of us are stressed about work. 55% of respondents claimed to check emails outside of office hours and 49% expressed concern over our ‘always-on’ culture. 85% of Londoners are stressed some of the time (just below the 86% high recorded in Cardiff, Belfast and Sheffield) and 10% of capital-dwellers claim to be stressed all of the time. And, 47% say that work is one of the main causes of stress.

But, what does this really mean? According to TUC, it means that in 2016 we racked up £33.6 billion in unpaid overtime. For 5.6 million of us, that equated to working an extra 7.7 hours a week – almost a sixth working day. In London, the average per week was 8.2 hours. When you think about it like that, it seems bizarre that we’re boasting about not having enough time for ourselves. Of course, we can’t always clock off at 5.30pm, head to the pub and ignore impending deadlines. But, losing 7-8 hours every week seems like a poor trade-off for the occasional hard-working compliment from someone who is most likely also polishing a gleaming badge of honour.

An ‘Always-On’ Culture

We all know too much stress isn’t a good thing. However, the glorification of busy also exists when we design jam-packed social schedules around already saturated working weeks. Maybe it’s due to FOMO (the fear of missing out), but there’s also a certain perceived pressure to be young, fun and making the most of city life.

And, when we’re not working or socialising? Our always-on culture – our dependence on digital devices and their ability to keep us feeling ‘on’ or ‘plugged in’ at all times – means we’re constantly connected to work and hundreds of friends and mere acquaintances through social media. Let’s be honest, it’s a constant information overload.

So, what happens when we’re busy at work, busy with friends and our minds are ‘busy’ when they’re supposed to be relaxing?

The Forgotten Problem with Being Too Busy

“You can’t continue to regenerate creatively unless you have time to daydream, relax and do nothing” – Lisa Congdon, artist

This quote has been at the back of my mind since I came across it in Flow magazine. Stress and tiredness probably take the limelight when you’re thinking about the impact of being overly busy. But, this quote reminds us that there’s another loser; creativity. It’s confirmation from someone who is creative for a living that maintaining creativity isn’t possible if your schedule and mind are always full.

Studies have also come to the same conclusion. Cognitive scientist Scott Barry Kaufman contributed to a study for Hansgrohe that found that 72% of recipients experienced creative ideas in the shower. He explained, “The relaxing, solitary, and non-judgmental shower environment may afford creative thinking by allowing the mind to wander freely, and causing people to be more open to their inner stream of consciousness and daydreams.” The shower is one of the few places we’re free from digital distractions, so it’s no surprise we experience eureka moments here. I vouch for going off-grid. After a few days of salty air on a recent staycation, I actively noticed my creativity coming back (albeit slowly).

So, in the race to wear a badge of honour, are we actually just designing creative blockers that take longer to overcome as we’re professionally and socially at saturation point? There are many issues with the glorification of busy, but if you agree that ‘daydream’ time always loses out and our creativity suffers as a result, it seems more illogical than ever. After all, you don’t need to be an artist to merit the importance of creativity at work.

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