Being Busy is the Adult Version of Being Cool
Being busy is the adult version of being cool. If you are busy, you know that you’ve made it. Being busy is a sign of success, both professionally and socially. And if everyone knows you are busy then you must be a success – right? The thing is, a lot of us are genuinely busy, juggling the commitments of work and family alone is enough to keep most people occupied, but there’s more to it than that. Being busy has become a state of mind. If we are not busy, we have failed.
Competitive scheduling is something that we see applied in both social and professional lives. We compete to see who has the fuller diary, and being ‘free’ is almost seen as a stigma. If you can make that meeting in the next week at any time, you are clearly not someone with whom it is worth having a meeting. The same applies to social gatherings – no one wants to be the person asking, at 4 pm on a Saturday, if anyone is free to ‘do something’.
Photo: Alex Pang
Learning to not be busy is something we need to start valuing. Monday to Friday can tick by monotonously: each morning begins with the commute, we eat lunch quickly, often at our desks, and then we are either working late, or have other commitments – children to collect, or gym classes to attend. One has a busy profile to maintain, both online and off. It is no surprise that a recent survey for Mental Health Foundation found that in the past year, 74% of people have felt ‘so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope’. Whilst setting up Apricity London my focus group research found that a clear majority of professionals continue working through lunch, and a third said they would feel worried about being judged if they took a full lunch break away from their desk.
How did we become a society where taking a break can’t just be seen as an important part of routine, but instead must be seen as a special ‘treat’ or something we have to justify to ourselves and to others? Imagine saying, ‘I’ve got a really busy week at work, so it’s important that I take a proper break each day to ensure that I’m fully effective.’ It’s probably not something you often hear, but when you think about it, it makes sense that in order to work well, we must feel refreshed and recharged, and research has proven the benefits to productivity from taking a break.
So, we need to do something about it, and we need the changes to come from the top. A survey undertaken by Warwick University showed that the happier we are, the more productive we are. All employers want happy, healthy, productive employees, and one of the solutions awaiting them is this: it’s time to reclaim the lunch break, or as a former pupil of mine said, ‘Make lunches great again!’ Employers need to seize the chance to create a workplace culture where the lunch break is a chance to do something new, different and interesting. Our focus group discovered that people would like to do something positive with their lunch break, but that won’t happen unless the order comes from the top.
At Apricity London we encourage companies to provide lunch time art classes, singing groups and culturally stimulating workshops, all with the aim of helping people to switch off from the stresses of work. We all need a break, so why not harness the potential of productive downtime? You’ll get to know your colleagues better – if you’ve just done a really interesting Caricature Drawing class or a workshop on Bee Hives* then conversation isn’t going to be lacking. Some companies we’ve worked with display their art work in a miniature ‘gallery’ for others to see, and inevitably this promotes conversation in the corridor, the kitchen or wherever you bump into people. And stopping for a chat is healthy. We’re not talking about eating into hours of company time, but about building a community – somewhere where people feel they know each other, and can be themselves.
Inevitably we are all still going to be busy, but what we need are companies who have the confidence to ask their employees to do ‘less’ with the outcome that they’ll end up doing more. The workplace has the potential to become an environment which promotes independent thought, where colleagues really feel that they know each other, where minds are sustained and creativity encouraged. We need more companies to tell us that there is more to life than just ‘being busy.’
*Yes, once a male drone mates with the queen bee his endophallus is ripped from his body, his abdomen torn open and he dies.