From the Blog

The Non-Virtue of Being “Busy”

I have a problem with the notion of being “busy.” You hear me? A problem.

We are all very busy, all the time. We have obligations, we have places to be, we have stuff that needs our attention. We are all this way, and we manage, to a certain degree. We go about our days. But how much of this collective busy-ness comes from personal choice, and how many people are really spending time doing what they want to do? How much of it comes from outside pressure, to you know, “look busy”?

How many products are sold to haggard parents who just don’t have the time to think because they are so “busy”? Lunchables? The ploy is, “We know how busy you are. You don’t have time to make your kid’s lunch. Just buy this over packaged, expensive, and barely nutritional food product instead.” There is a whole convenience industry devoted to convincing us how busy we are. Particularly with food and grocery products.

And we sort of buy into it, don’t we? Yes, yes we are busy. We like to be convinced that we are so in demand, that our time is so fleeting and important, we are so needed in so many ways. We are stretched so thin because we have so much to do. We compete over how busy we are, because we all know that a leprechaun gives us a trophy at the end.

Marketers gladly sell us “convenience” because we are too busy to slow down and think about where our money is going. Busy-ness has been glorified into a modern day virtue. Our culture worships busy-ness. It has become a substitute for feeling responsible, or active, or engaged, or connected, or involved. We are in all these places at once, without being present in any.

Busy-ness prevents us from thinking too hard, or too deeply. Who has the time? The barest headline or soundbite will have to do. Even better if someone can do my thinking for me, right? I surely don’t have the time to do it myself.

I am suspicious of “busy.” I question the motives of people, products or politics that want to appeal to how “busy” I am. I suspect they hope I am dumb and impressionable. I wouldn’t say I was paranoid, but I have become attuned to these ploys. And you know what? They can just keep their leprechauns and trophies.


  1. Couldn’t agree with you more. : )

  2. I love lunchables!

  3. I’m too damned busy right now to read this! I totally agree with the headline and first sentence, however, and I look forward to *not* being busy enough to read it tomorrow!

  4. Fast food is a terrible culprit of this, “buy this in our new, open, 24 hours drive thru!”

  5. Okay, I’m back. Ahhhhhhh.

    I have to laugh because after having actually read your post, my earlier response and the way I lived my entire day yesterday kind of sums up what you’re saying. I was a living, breathing object lesson in the mental attitudes that support busyness.

    For example, yesterday was my baby-sitting day, and I really *had* to be where I was going. It’s not okay not to show up to pick up children. If you don’t, the kids are are probably going to feel scared and abandoned, and you are going to lose both their trust and the trust of their parents, who will be called, frightened half to death, and forced to deal with the the fallout. At least one teacher or employee at the school will have some freaked out kids and parents on their hands as well. At the very least, you will be severely unpopular in an ever-widening crowd. If you’re lucky, you will probably only be fired. If you’re not, something really bad could happen. Showing up to pick up the kids, therefore, was obviously the top priority, the one responsibility I needed to take seriously, the one goal I needed to accomplish. One. Nothing, not my car, not my health, not a natural disaster or being held at gunpoint, was preventing me from getting across town to their school yesterday, but…

    …but I wanted to get some things done. Eating a decent breakfast or lunch were not among them, by the way, and neither was conserving energy so that I’d be able to have fun with the kids later on. Instead, I busied myself with things that would count to my credit, that I could cross off a list somewhere, that would be of tangible benefit to me. I wanted to look back on my day and feel proud of *all* the things I had done. Not only that, but carpenters were in my house busily working their asses off, and I didn’t want them to think I’m lazy.

    Thus it was that I ran around, didn’t eat well, got really tired, and, by the hair of my chinny chin chin, got to school on time. The kids and I had fun. We played, laughed and made stuff, but I was a little more tired than I needed to be, and I think it affected the kids. One result was that I was not as proactive as I could have been about getting them to eat a healthy snack, which was probably the reason a certain little person had a few meltdowns before dinner. I also looked at my watch a few times to see how much longer it would be till I could go back accomplishing things.

    All this, in a word, is lame. It’s not me. It’s not how I want to live. It isn’t fun and it doesn’t help anyone.

    To borrow a metaphor from Ani DiFranco, I want to think of busyness as a radio station. I drive out of range and leave it behind and it’s just me on the open road. My life. With a bunch of choices I get to make. Hopefully, without all the noise distracting me, I get to make decisions that are better and more fun. A wise and funny friend introduced me to the saying “we’re human beings, not human doings,” a phrase both silly and true. Silly and true: two of my favorite things.

  6. OMG! I totally agree. You have given the post I wish I wrote.

    When I have had a rough time at work I purposely avoid saying “busy”. We in these times always are doing something so we’re busy as a rule. We make time for things they just don’t happen.

    Again, awesome post. ~n

  7. Oh and Burgerville doesn’t count.


  8. here, here!! excellent comments. it is possible to always be busy. there will always be stuff that “has” to be done. the list never actually ends, you just keep adding stuff to it. I used to keep busy to justify my usefulness to myself. after years of wonderful people (like heather) telling me that I am awesome, and superwoman, and making comments like “is there anything you CAN’T do?!?”, I have learned to cut myself some fuckin’ slack, man, lol. I now wallow in not-busyness. I still get shit done, but I will spend all day in my PJ’s, and take 2 naps on Sunday. And refuse to feel guilty about it. Cuz, you know what? the shit on the list will still be there tomorrow…
    I must admit that I do not have kids, or a husband, which hugely affects one’s ability to be not-busy. I have cats, but I can lay on the couch and use the fishing pole with the feather tied to the end to entertain them, and they perfectly happy. Additionally, their food takes like, 60 seconds to prepare.

  9. Jennifer R. says

    Hi, I just discovered your blog and, though we are both married women, I believe I have a crush on you.

    If you’re interested in the ridiculousness of busyness you should check out Adam Gopnik’s essay titled Bumping into Mr. Ravioli about his daughter’s imaginary friend who is too busy to play with her. Genius.

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