There is a subtle art to doing nothing. To sit and stare at the clouds, to listen to the rain, to block out the constant stimulus of our technological world is becoming increasingly difficult. Many have revised their definition of doing nothing to watching television; however consuming information still involves some mental activity, even when the information is spoon fed. As a result of our perpetual consumption of stimuli, we are giving ourselves less time to absorb and analyze information. There simply isn’t time to turn off, and cognitive function is the casualty of our busyness.
The assault on doing nothing comes on two fronts: at work and at home. In a typical day, we wake up, get ready and commute to work; the latter two being acts of consumption. Once we get to work, we spend our days producing, whether that is in the form of business plans, tangible goods like cars, or customer services.
Then, when we get home we start consuming: we go out to dinner, we watch television and movies, we play games on our phones and computers, and we browse the endless internet. Each act of consumption necessitates an act of production: someone makes the movie and someone watches it.
In some respects, consumption is a great thing because it creates jobs by demanding production. These jobs, in turn, allow people with greater means to consume even more. But the cycle keeps accelerating, requiring each person to produce more to fuel their growing consumption. Is this a perpetual motion machine, driving people faster and faster into busy oblivion?
This engine of busyness is in part fueled by uniquely American ideals which emphasize work ethic. Horatio Alger stories and the idea that work equals success push America forward. While hard work does usually pay off, there is a trade-off. Every hour spent at work is an hour you cannot spend with your children. The less rest you allow your brain, the less productive it will be and the more time it will take to complete tasks.
Why do we seem to be so busy all the time? Are we choosing to be busy in order to fill an existential void and add meaning to our lives? Or is it as the New York Times piece “The Busy Trap” would suggest, and we are using our busyness as a veiled boast. Perhaps it is simply an economic reality: you have to be busy in order to make a dollar.
On the other hand, perhaps busyness is like drinking: you need to know your own limit. Some people take great pride in working 60 hours per week and then spending another 50+ raising their kids and managing a household. Some people simply don’t sleep in order to cram in all the busyness they can. But when this becomes the measure of a good person, everyone suffers. Pushing yourself until your psyche snaps like a brittle twig helps no one, least of all yourself. Sometimes, we all just need to take it easy.
The New York Times The “Busy” Trap: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/