Everyone knows one or several people who answer any request with “I’m so busy.” Now, researchers are theorising that being busy is the newest status symbol and way of telling your peers that you’re important. It is a showy effort to tout one’s own importance, value, and desirability at work or among friends.
But this isn’t how people used to think. Before the mid-20th century, living a life of leisure was considered enviable and showed an elite status. Harvard Business Review conducted a study to explain how drastically this way of thinking has changed. In the experiment, people were given two stories of a man, one who was working constantly, and one who lounged around. Most of the participants chose the working man as the more important and high-status person.
I often come across people whose opening line is somehow always, “I am so busy, I am going crazy with work.” I see some people, tapping away at the keyboard of their computers, squinting at their screens with a thinking frown on their forehead. I am so tempted to ask them what did they achieve. Were they genuinely busy or were they busy because of their incompetence? If you were truly so busy, you must have achieved a lot. Sadly, the result matrix shows otherwise.
I wonder why people pretend to be so busy. I believe there are two pressures - the expectation to work long hours and the belief that it would lead to success. This causes employees to lie about the hours they work. Much research has been done on this subject, and the conclusion is that working long hours are not necessary for high-quality work.
Take any sport for instance. People only remember the goal-scorers and the century-makers. The players who are just toiling without any achievements to talk about are not remembered. Let’s take a cue from that and make a difference because that’s what matters.
Covid taught us that we don't have to be in the office at sharp 8 am in order to be productive. We don’t have to take flights to attend meetings. We can achieve so much without the strict rules of clocking in the hours in office. I love this line because in a few words it says a lot. “What matters is the final score.” I wish the people who pretend to be busy (in order to impress their bosses/colleagues) would take a minute to absorb this line. One can impress with long hours for a short while, but finally, everyone wants results.
A two-pronged approach is required here. Corporates should stop expecting employees to respond to emails late at night and on weekends. Employees need to truly have a weekend. We all talk about work-life balance. We don’t have to attend workshops and do courses to figure it out. We just have to live our day without the false belief that the world rests on our shoulders and will collapse without us. So don’t give up everything that is valuable just to impress people at work. Corporations function with or without you, they hire and fire.
Life is too beautiful and too short to pretend. Personally, I respect people who respect other people’s time. Expectations should be aligned and not be unrealistic. Pretence is hard work, remove the mask and liberate yourself. "Wearing a mask wears you out. Faking is fatiguing. The most exhausting activity is pretending to be what you know you aren`t," says Rick Warren so rightly.
Just because I am calm and smiling and take the time to say hello to you doesn’t mean I am not busy. And just because you are always rushing around almost breathless doesn’t mean you are accomplishing much.
- Shilpa Bhasin Mehra is an independent legal consultant based in Dubai
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