The Cult of Busy

November 17, 2014

Dina Kaplin hits the nail on the head:

Busy can become a way of life. We’re seduced by all the incoming - the emails and text messages that make us feel wanted and important - stimulating our dopamine, as research shows, but in an exhausting, ultimately empty way. Busy has a dangerous allure. If your normal is busy, it’s tough to sit quietly with your thoughts or to really feel what you’re feeling. What if, instead, everything became a choice - how we spend time, who we respond to and how much or little we write? What if we recognized the difference between accomplishing our goals for the day and responding to other people’s requests? What if we learned to say no - a lot?

One of the things that bugs me most about this so-called “Cult of Busy” is that it is a built-in excuse for inaction. Why didn’t we find an obvious bug before launch? Why didn’t we mentor someone on our team? Why haven’t we filled that open position we all know we need? All of the answers to these questions can easily be: we were too busy. If something is a priority, it will get done, regardless of our state of busy.

In other words: when someone says they didn’t do something because they were busy, I hear “it isn’t a priority.” Sometimes that’s ok, but let’s at least call it what it is.

Imagine asking “How are you?” to one of the most successful people you know or, say, Elon Musk, Sheryl Sandberg or Warren Buffet. I’ve never heard anyone at that level respond, “busy.” By most people’s definition they are, constantly making high-level strategic decisions with a large impact.

Most of the people in my personal life have no idea what I do for a living. They think I just work “in computers.” Therefore, my default answer to “how’s work?” is more often than not: “busy.” I’m selling myself and my amazing company short when I use this generic default answer. Busy should be implied. How is my work? The answer: it’s great. We’re growing, doing amazing work, breaking new ground and building a fantastic company culture of results. That sounds way more fun than just “busy.”