Tuesday, 7 April 2009

How busy are you?

It came to my attention through an article I was reading recently that there is a belief that the phrase Keeping busy? has replaced the more traditional greeting on meeting someone of how are you? Initially I was quite sceptical about this but then as often happens when something is brought to one's attention I noticed it more. In fact it was a bit of an epiphany for me because until that moment I had not realised how much it was part of common parlance. It got me thinking about the underlying assumptions of this change of usage.

Is it related to the Puritan work ethic which has so dominated our culture in the past? In the past that translated itself as every one had to earn their place in heaven. In today's language it seems to have come to mean that each of us has to earn our place in society through what we do. How many people do you know who gain their sense of self worth through what they contribute? There
are even those who spend time listing what they do with their time perhaps to prove that they are occupied in worthy pursuits. For others saying how busy they are is a polite way of avoiding offence – in other words they have been too busy to find time to see you as it is easier to put it that way rather than the more truthful I choose not spend my time with you.

Whatever the root cause it, it has had ramifications beyond the social worlds we inhabit and crept into our work environment. Although thinking about it, it was probably established in our working lives before infiltrating our social conscience, one only has to recall 1993 when the UK won an opt-out clause with regard to the implementation of a 48 hour working week. The latest talks on this issue to get rid of the opt-out clause within three years collapsed in April 2009. Closer to home, it is becoming increasingly the norm for employees to work through lunch. With this pattern, also follows an assumption and expectation from employers that staff will continue to do this unquestioningly. I wonder how healthy such an attitude is especially if we consider that we are human beings not human doings.

How about this for an idea? It sounds counter-intuitive because it swims against the current culture but why not give it a go. Put aside time each day when you just relax, focus on your breathing, perhaps do a structured meditation. See what happens over time – you may find you can fit more into your day; even that you become more creative. Avril Carson from the Happiness Project, subscribes to 30 minutes meditation daily and extends it to one hour when she is very busy. So here is my challenge to you – take some time out of each day to do nothing and see what happens.

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