Are We Too Busy?
Published on July 11, 2012 by Sara Foss

In the past two weeks, I've seen several interesting articles/essays on whether people are too busy, and whether there's anything that can be done about this.

The first piece, titled "The 'Busy' Trap," comes courtesy of Tim Krieder in the New York Times, who writes that everyone he knows constantly complains about how busy they are. Or is it a complaint? Krieder suggests that it might actually be a boast, a way of demonstrating how important and full their lives are, in a world where the number of activities and distractions at our disposal seems to be increasing. He also hits upon one of my big pet peeves: friends who are too busy to do anything. He writes:

"Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s  make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications. I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it."

I agreed with most of Kreider's essay. I know plenty of people whose kids are enrolled in numerous activities by the time they're in kindergarten, and who think their jobs are far more important than they actually are. And when there's an emphasis on organized, planned activities, for both adults and children, the simple act of hanging out and catching up with friends inevitably falls by the wayside.

Krieder's essay is interesting, as far as it goes, but it doesn't address one big reason why people are so busy: Their jobs demand it. And at a time of great economic anxiety, few people feel they can ditch their responsibilities to clear their minds of clutter and white noise.

In response to Kreider, Matt Bors addresses the issue of economic anxiety, and how having a fulfilling job often entails a certain amount of sacrifice. He writes:

"I could identify some of myself in the essay. I routinely work over 60 hours a week, 52 weeks a year (I am self-employed with no health insurance or vacation time) and commonly blow off friends for work. A few romantic relationships have been thrown under the bus as I’ve pursued a career in the dying field of editorial cartooning, with only the smallest pang of regret. It’s a chosen path, you could say, but working less isn’t; I simply don’t make enough money to do anything but.

To land in a fulfilling career in America, let alone a creative one, takes an incredible amount of work. Even then, the mythical promise of bootstrapped payoff may be nowhere in sight. I’ve seen numerous friends, colleagues, and family members downsize their life as the recession kneecapped their careers and student loan debt buried them in bills."

I also found myself nodding my head at Bors' essay. Some of our busyness is self-inflicted, but some of it is the result of forces beyond our control. But whatever the cause, it is a problem - people are on a treadmill, working and playing too hard. Wouldn't it be nice if life slowed down a little bit? 

Two other interesting (and related links):

The Atlantic, on why people who are rich are more likely to complain about being busy

The Boston Globe, on how middle class American families are so busy they don't have time to use their backyards, and their garages are so filled with clutter they can't even park their cars inside.


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