Episode 42: What does it mean to be Busy?

When we say we are Busy, what do we really mean?

Are we saying we’re not spending enough time doing the things we enjoy? Do we mean we feel constantly occupied but not necessarily productive? Do we mean we simply don’t want to prioritise that thing we’re too busy for? Do we wear Busyness as a badge of honour and a way to feel important?

In this episode of the Havana Sessions Podcast, Clay and Sarah attempt to unpack the idea of Busyness.


In this episode you’ll hear:

* possible translations of what we really mean when we say “I’m busy”

* how historical and Puritan ideas of ‘idleness as the devil’s workshop’ may still influence our need to stay busy

* Sarah’s thoughts on what Introverts might mean when they say “I’m busy”

* investigating what we do with our time

* philosopher Kierkegaard’s perspective of busyness as a means of distracting oneself from the truly important questions of life

* How to become conscious of what we are prioritising

* Tim Ferris’s distinction between being Busy and being Productive
These days, everyone is busy.

When someone asks you how you’re doing, the most common responses seem to be ‘Fine’ or ‘Busy’.

And as much as we may complain about being too busy, in our conversations with people, we associate being busy with positive things — being hardworking, being productive, doing important work.

In fact, pushing back against the culture of ‘busy worship’ can feel incredibly difficult. Because ‘not being busy’ is commonly interpreted as being lazy or overly privileged in some way.

It is not usually seen as a life choice.

It is not usually seen as a sign of conscious living.

And yet, as Tim Ferris points out in his book The Four Hour Work Week, we should make a distinction between being busy and being productive. We can easily look busy, as we all know, without being productive. (How many days have you said to yourself…where has the day gone? What did I do with that time!?).

Turing the idea of Busyness on it’s head and throwing it off it’s pedestal, Tim Ferris claims that “Being busy is a form of lazy thinking and thoughtless action”. In other words, it shows a lack of prioritising, of indiscriminate activity. “If you don’t feel like you have time, you don’t have priorities.”

Sometimes it feels very true that being busy “is a way of keeping yourself in your comfort zone by doing a lot of small unproductive tasks you’re used to…”

But what compels us to completely fill our time? Is there a deeper motive subconsciously driving our need to stay busy?

One philosopher thought so. Way back in the early 19th Century, a Danish philosopher called Kierkegaard linked Busyness with Unhappiness. He saw busyness as a means of distracting oneself from the truly important questions such as who you are and what life is for.

And in fact it often seems that while we idolise leisure time and ‘just chilling out’, we rarely seem to allow ourselves space to do this. Guilt arises. We’re not doing all the things we should be doing. Maybe deep down we’re a little bit afraid of being bored. Maybe deep down we’re a little afraid of these questions about our lives arising and not being able to answer them.

And yet, as Clay and the Merovingian (Matrix reference folks) remind us: How can you ever have time if you never make time?

Personally, I’m totally guilty of unconsciously getting sucked into this culture of busyness. And as Clay reminds me (like every good accountability friend), it’s my new year’s resolution this year to be less busy. But all this reading has re-inspired me to keep focusing on my priorities.

What about you? What’s your biggest time suck? What one thing would you like to prioritise more (if you weren’t so busy)?