Too Busy: The Solution

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In Part One we discussed reasons for our busyness and the pride we take in it. But what do we lose, and what is the solution?

Harvard economist claims that what really sucks our time and makes us busy is our lack of focus:

Mullainathan’s own productivity breakthrough came when he dropped his cellphone in a toilet.

That night, he went to dinner with friends, and found he had a surprisingly fun time. His friends didn’t get more interesting. The food wasn’t better than usual. What changed was that he didn’t have his phone.

That meant he couldn’t receive potentially bothersome emails or text messages before or during the meal. “My bandwidth for those two hours was focused on the thing I wanted to be focused on,” he says.

After explaining the necessity of focus (quality time on a project rather than quantity time), the author says,

The lesson for professionals: Having precious little time doesn’t matter. Spending quality time with it does.

But as we have seen, we tend to spend our “precious weekends” doing activities that don’t necessarily bring us pleasure but that which suck our time, boost our status, and force us to go back on Monday and make even more money.

University of Texas economist points out that even the wealthy have this problem:

Hamermesh says. “You can’t pay somebody to sleep for you,” he explains. “You can’t pay somebody to read Proust for you. Or go to the opera, or go to the movies, or go to a ballgame.” And that’s where a bit of psychology comes into play.

We all live on two things: time and money. And people who have extra income don’t get much, if any, extra time to spend it. As a result, Hamermesh argues, each of their hours seems more valuable, and they feel the clock ticking away more acutely.

And David Cain, who I mentioned earlier, found that when he joined the 40 hour work week after living for months on no income and backpacking:

Suddenly I have a lot more money and a lot less time, which means I have a lot more in common with the typical working North American than I did a few months ago. While I was abroad I wouldn’t have thought twice about spending the day wandering through a national park or reading my book on the beach for a few hours. Now that kind of stuff feels like it’s out of the question. Doing either one would take most of one of my precious weekend days!

In high school, I spent my free time taking walks with friends, writing, reading, and doing other meaningful activities. Once I started a full time teaching job, I was too tired to do anything other than plan for the next day and then veg out. I would wait for the weekends so I could do what I wanted to do (write, go for walks, organize) and yet waste them because they seemed so fleeting.

Now I again have more time and less money. I find that I am gravitating toward these free and rewarding activities again. Work is good; it was created by God before the Fall and was cursed by the Fall. Part of that curse is perhaps our obsession and idolatry with work and with the fruits of our labor. Work is supposed to provide us with what we need, grow us as people, and free us to be the people we want to become. But our jobs are only part of our work as humans. And our boasts of busyness are no better than our boasts of what we have as a result of our busyness.

In Tolstoy’s novella, The Death of Ivan Ilych, the main character finds out something tragic at the end of his life:

It is as if I had been going downhill while I imagined I was going up. I was going up in public opinion, but to the same extent life was ebbing away from me. And now it is all done and there is only death.

We lose a lot by being so busy (or merely by claiming to be so busy). We miss out on activities we truly enjoy and on time with people. The only eternal things are the Word of God and the souls of men. Perhaps we can learn to have more focus–living in the moment. Perhaps we can find a way to retreat from the busyness and chaos as Thoreau does when he says,

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Maybe we can learn to silence our phones when we are talking with a friend. Maybe we can learn to silence our phones when we are finishing a project for work in order to achieve more focus and productivity. Maybe we can start to boast when we have free time rather than filling it with a never-ending search for fulfillment. Maybe we can drink deeply of the relationships and beauty around us and take appropriate fulfillment in our work, as well.

For Further Reading/Listening: 

  • I love this sermon on a biblical view of work and this sermon on a biblical view of sleep. They are free downloads and well worth your time!
  • Kevin DeYoung on why the word hospitality has the word “hospital” in it. This is a convicting read for those of us who apologize for our messy homes. It also touches on the idea of pride and busyness. I am super excited about his book, Crazy Busywhich is coming out in September.
  • I LOVE this idea to boost productivity. Though I haven’t used this system, I was very intense about focused work and systematic breaks in high school, and it served me well by preventing burnout. Watch the video on the home page!
  • A great post on how we DO have enough time by the Everyday Minimalist. I love the idea of not overscheduling and taking time to really invest in friends.
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