Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Busy Trap

This is an interesting op-Ed in the NYT, by a writer who is suspicious of busyness.

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren't either working or doing something to promote their work.

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.
This is the kicker.

I can't help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn't a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn't matter.
I like this. I also think that busyness often stops genuine work getting done.

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. "Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do," wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes' "Eureka" in the bath, Newton's apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams.
I've found myself that the most productive work ideas I ever have often come at 4am or 5am, lying half asleep. Suddenly something just connects, a neuron fires, and I see things in a new way. I have to rouse and write it down before I forget.

It's not when I'm in an e-mail or blackberry frenzy.

It is interesting to compare this with the already infamous Atlantic article we were talking about a few days ago, about whether "women could have it all", by a very busy Princeton professor who worked for the State Department.

There's something very interesting here. People like to feel important - of course. But that desire for particular feelings, particular forms of status or respect, can distort what we want in self-defeating ways. The culture gets skewed.

We should be busy at the things that do matter. But most of the time we don't think about what those are. And we don't have good ways of recognizing people for what does matter.

We stress appearances over purpose.


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