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Do Nothing


At the checkout of the supermarket, I am asked by the person scanning the groceries: “Have you got a busy day today?” (or, “Have you had a busy day today?”) When friends or acquaintances meet, “keeping busy” is a regular response to the bidding, “How are you?” (Or the person may open the conversation with, “Are you keeping busy?”).

Busy is IN.

During the Covid lockdown, most worked from home. Post-lockdown, there has been an increase in continuing to work from home – at least part of the time. I heard of a study recently of Kiwi office workers – on average, how much actual work does such a person productively do in an approximately 8-hour day? Three hours!

We confuse “busy” with “productive”. [We also confuse “efficient” with “effective”].

There was a good article I read recently summarising the new book, Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life, by Professor Ashley Whillans, a behavioural scientist at Harvard Business School who combined her latest research with the most recent global studies to conclude “time poverty is at an all-time high”.

Chapter 1 of the book identifies six traps that makes us time poor: technology (“we carry the office in our back pockets”); our cultural obsession with money; we undervalue time; busyness; our inability to do nothing; and overoptimism (“We believe, dumbly, that we will have more time tomorrow than we do today.”)

 A couple of stories spring to my mind. I derive one from the TED talk How to be Happy: The Dutch Way by Britt de Visser: planning to do nothing.
“What are you doing on Saturday?”
“I plan to do nothing.”
“Would you like to come ’round to my place?”
“Didn’t you hear what I said: on Saturday, I plan to do nothing!”

The second is a counselling story. The person being counselled asked to see the counsellor at a certain time on Thursday. “I’m sorry, I can’t. I have an appointment at that time,” says the counsellor. Then, on that Thursday, the client spots the counsellor on the beach: “I thought you said you had an appointment at this time!” “I do: with myself.”

Management approaches affect busyness. In NZ (you, the reader, are more aware of your own country’s context), there is growing multi-layered management style. And managers are increasingly moving from one industry to another – so that management is a position not so dependent on the particular industry. These many managers move reports around their equivalent level, pass them up the chain, and demand such from those below them. Justification and maintenance of the position requires and engenders busyness. I remember reading an article (I wish I could re-find it) that saw a lot of NZ’s surprisingly very high depression rates as being due to so many people here realising that their busyness was inconsequential, mostly unprofitable. We can be busy for busyness sake. Our busyness may not lead to any productivity or fruitfulness.

I conclude with what we might learn from Carthusian monastics (photo at the start of this post). Carthusians are hermits – each of the “fathers” live in what is akin to two-up-two-down townhouses; the “brothers” live a bit more as other monastics would; they provide the meals (etc) for the “fathers”. Ponder the saying: The fathers do nothing, and the brothers help them to do it.

How can we encourage and help each other to be less busy?


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