Yesterday I was quite lazy and spent my Sunday watching some things on Netflix and reading my twitter feed and anything interesting that was linked to. I think about five people linked to an opinion piece on The New York Times site, The ‘Busy’ Trap. It was no surprise to me that so many people really resonated with the article. As I’ve written, I believe our culture has a weird infatuation with being “busy” and using that term to feel important.
This piece is just another reinforcement of how I feel about being busy and how I feel about our culture which seems to hold up the busiest person as the best, most important. The author also points out that most of the people who are so crushingly busy aren’t busy because they are working 3 minimum wage jobs, but busy because they have made choices about how to spend their time. They choose to be busy, it may be an unconscious choice, but it is still a choice. And this is what bothers me so much about people complaining about being busy. It is usually because they have scheduled themselves into way too many activities, etc. Or they refuse to think about how changing jobs and maybe even scaling back their lifestyle may make their life better because they won’t need to work so much to keep paying for the things they don’t really need.
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.
But the most worrisome part of the article is how the author points out that idleness of the mind is absolutely necessary. We need this for our brains.
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. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.
The need for idleness is pointed out by Steven Johnson in Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. Most great ideas came from having time to let the mind wander. After reading many different things it is when the mind can relax that it will put together two ideas to form a new one, one that could be truly great.
My challenge for people who are “busy” is to think about why they are busy and what is occupying their time. I made several changes in my life in the last year to help me see how I am spending my time and making sure that it is what I want to be doing, not what I feel like I should be doing. For me, this meant changing my work life in order to have time for things that are important to me. Not everyone can do the things I’ve done and I realize this, but I do think most of us have more choices than we care to admit. We just need to be honest with ourselves and that can be really hard.