The Culture of Busyness and Why We Need To Stop Obsessing About It. – Karolina Grabowska

We’ve all said it:

“How are you?”

“Not bad, keeping busy”

It’s ingrained in our language and has subtly become a low-key symbol of status and a marker of success. If you are busy, you must have great value placed on your time.

You must be important.

Work over play.

One of the great achievements for the forces behind the industrial revolution was the resulting valuation of labour over leisure. What is interesting is that historically we are not physically spending more time in work than the 1960s but what is expected of us has changed:

There has been a shift in domestic labour as both parents are more likely to work.

We are expected to manage our own time and carry out extra tasks outside of the working day rather than simply clocking on /off at work.

Jonathan Gershuny taken from “The Conversation”

On top of this, driven by societal pressure, worsened by social media, and perhaps tied in to ideas of status and wanting to be seen to be doing well, we want to fill our downtime with holidays, meals out, exciting activities and quirky hobbies.

When do we let ourselves rest?

If stress is success, then I’m out!

The Culture of Busyness

Just write.

Just draw.

Just create.

While there is truth in this, I feel the other side of the coin is often forgotten. While we may not be physically writing, drawing or making, the creative process is a 24/7 job. And I mean 24/7. I know I’m not alone when I ask how many of you have to scribble ideas down on the nearest receipt or jot thoughts down on your phone at any hour of the day or night.

It is too easy to feel boring, lazy, and even worthless when you aren’t creating any physical output. Especially living in the constant flickering and enticing light of ‘other-people-on-social-media’.

As a writer, a great deal of time is spent thinking and planning, which to the outside viewer may look like nothing, but we feel we need to prove we are ‘busy’ : our time is valuable and important.

My phone is full of notes thought of at 1am and I have to carry a notebook with me to scribble down ideas. We are constantly switched on, inspiration can strike at any time and this can be tiring.

Writing this blog post has been a true example of this. The irony is real. Over a week late in publishing, but I have been scribbling, editing, polishing, and researching the entire time. I wrote sentences down in my green book in the middle of the night and have many hastily written and misspelled notes, typed into my phone through bleary nightime eyes.

Trusty notepad
Scribbling down an idea

Knowing this, we still feel pressured to fill any perceived downtime. Lockdown demonstrated this on an amplified scale. We watched our friends and colleagues working out every day until they were olympic-level gymnasts, picking up new hobbies and turning them into booming businesses in minutes, baking banana bread endlessy (where did it all go?)

The list was never-ending and the ‘proof’ of other’s success was relentless. It was very easy to feel wholly inadequate for sitting on your arse and watching Netflix.

It is great to have a creative outlet, even if you don’t think you are very good at it! I think we need to find a sense of balance and appreciate that we don’t have to be doing something 24/7.

I’ve mentioned before, in my introduction blog post, that I took on many projects and activity subscription boxes in lockdown, most of which are still unopened (whoops). Trying to work on this business , trying to stick to the standard 8 hour working day didn’t leave me much time or energy to do anything else.

It has been suggested that the average office worker is only truly productive and focussed for approximately three hours out of the standard eight-hour day. The conversation around shortening the working day continues, as it has for years.

Whether you work from home or work from an office how often have you found you have been staring blankly at your screen for an hour, or it’s taken you 30 minutes to reply to that group email about a meeting this afternoon? – Andrea Piacquadio

The truth is it is just as tiring, if not more so, to look busy than to be productive.

Busy people can look busy, productive people get things done. Forbes has this great article if you’d like to read some ways to try and be more productive

Busyness as a Distraction

When it comes to mental health we often hear well-meaning advice to ‘keep busy’ and sometimes this can be good, some activities or even work can be a welcome distraction. Sometimes.

However, being busy has the potential for addiction or obsession as we continue to chase the dopamine release from finishing tasks. It prevents us from resting and ultimately can stop us processing our feelings when we should.

Burnout and repression are a big deal, and we need to welcome rest and doing nothing back into our lives. The problem is, it doesn’t always make a great picture on Instagram, does it?


How Can We Rest Guilt Free?

  1. Stop treating doing nothing as laziness. Doing nothing is doing something.
  2. Try and make it part of your routine, schedule the time in.
  3. Try using a timer for working – set yourself 20-40 or 60 minutes to work wil no distractions before you take a short break to review what you’ve done, and take a breather. Stretch your legs, make a cup of tea. You’ll be surprised how much you get done when you’re against the clock! I have recently started using Toggl Track and it’s really helpful.
  4. Start small, don’t plan to do an hour of art every evening as you will struggle to stick to it and feel bad when you don’t manage to keep up.
  5. Try these activity ideas for when you need to have some downtime but you struggle to relax and switch off from work and family responsibilities.

As always, I’d love to hear from you:

Photo by Pixabay on

Any thoughts on the value of the eight hour working day?

Any tips and tricks you’d like to share with other readers on rest and relaxation?

Leave comments below, and check out some of my other posts of how to be kind to yourself when it comes to your work/life balance.

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