The ‘Busy’ Trap (by Tim Kreider, from The New York Times‘ Opinionator blog, 30 June 2013) is one of those brilliant articles about the modern obsession with busy-ness. If you don’t have time to read it, then you’re probably one of those people who should.
Kreider eloquently spears in the backside the world’s chronic obsession of people who need to be busy. It’s relevance to creativity? Well, everything – and more.
When was the last time you just stopped to think? I’m not talking about sitting at your desk or cubicle doing ‘reactionary’ work – as in work you’re doing in ‘reaction’ to someone else’ demands (or even your own). I mean ‘productive thinking’ – as in purposeful, lateral thinking, open-minded type of thinking. The only other word I can use to describe productive thinking is so stymied with negative stereotypes that I hesitate to use it: ‘daydreaming.’ There, I said it and I hate myself already for doing so.
When I meet people who are interested in becoming more creative, one of the first questions I ask is how many hours in a week do they set aside simply to think proactively? For those of my clients who work as consultants, I ask how much of their billable day do they spend thinking pro-actively about their client’s problems, and more important, imaging new ways to help solve their client’s issue.
The answer is usually an unqualified ‘None.’
I recently met up with an old friend, a woman who runs her own agency in Sydney. Over coffee (too busy for lunch!), she asked if I knew the secret to be being a better CEO. Again, how much time had she set aside to plan for the future of the business, to dream where she wants the agency to go? None.
Another friend – an artist, struggling to find her vision – asked me if there were books she could read to find her voice. Apparently it’s better to be busy reading books than sitting down and free-thinking?
The affect isn’t limited to ourselves. One of my favourite couple friends – clearly needing some ‘alone time’ together to rekindle their partnership – decided it was better to go off on a break-neck vacation through Europe than actually stopping to think about they wanted from their relationship and talk. Another friend – the typical new mother so exhausted with her busy-ness to contact her friends – decided it was preferable to use her down-time to write a newsletter to talk about how busy she is with her daughter. Alas, it’s one thing to let our busy-ness influence how we live our own lives. But it’s another to set by example our preference of selfish busy-ness, rather than focus on the people around us.
The point is not to stop for a full week, or even an entire day. (Then again, why not?) The point is to regularly stop, perhaps starting with as little as 10 minutes every day. Not to meditate (although that’s good too). Not to fiddle. (Although that’s not such a bad thing either.) To stop and think about what’s possible. To be creative.
Or, consider the alternative. If you don’t stop to think about how you want to spend the few days you have on this little planet productively, just exactly when are you going to do it? Lying in your coffin exhausted to death (excuse the pun) is a few shades too late, if you ask me.
So please, consider reading the article. I thought about cutting my favourite parts out and listing them below. But that would defeat the point of this post, wouldn’t it? Here’s the link again.
This post is dedicated to Frank Hoffman.