Saturday, December 11, 2010

Busyness as a Form of Laziness

It is clear the future holds great opportunities. It also holds pitfalls. The trick will be to avoid the pitfalls, seize the opportunities, and get back home by six o'clock.
-- Woody Allen

A lot has been written about work/life balance and it stems from the general perception that our work and personal life are essentially separate and that they should be kept in balance (of note, in these discussions I've never heard anyone say their PERSONAL time was out of balance).

Of course, the Woody Allen quote above wasn't necessarily addressing the idea of work/life balance, but I think it's a great way to illustrate the perception that the ideal work/life balance is to overcome the day's challenges and be home by six.

The reason why there's a lot of conversation around balancing life and work is that many of us allow work demands to take priority over personal relationships, health, diet, spiritual development and leisure.

Virtually all of us do this on occasion -- when a major deadline is looming, when we take on more projects than we can handle, a crisis hits, etc. For a set period, we "burn the midnight oil," let the email accumulate, put the phones on "do not disturb," tell our friends we can't get together this week and our significant other that we won't be home for dinner. But this isn't a "balance" problem, really. It's doing what's necessary to address a short-term challenge.

The problem, of course, is when this behavior becomes a lifestyle, where we've crossed the line into work addiction or neurosis. When you avoid personal life this way, there's usually something or someone you're trying to avoid, such as a bad marriage, boredom or basic loneliness. Working late seems like a valid excuse -- but really just a rationalization -- for avoiding the problem.

But aside from temporary overload or chronic work addiction, I think more often many of us suffer from what I call "busyness as a form of laziness" -- a subtle form of procrastination. It's a (perhaps not fully conscious) choice not to prioritize or focus, to instead continuously check email, get sucked into social media, organize, create or catch up on projects that won't advance major business or personal goals, not delegate tasks that others should be doing, etc. We're worn out from all the activity, but don't seem to have much to show for it.

It's not that we don't know how to prioritize our time or know what activities are truly important versus "busy work." In fact, we may know exactly where our time is best spent and post personal and professional goals clearly in writing with key performance indicators on calendars and checklists. We've read all the productivity books and know about the four quadrants from Steven Covey's First Things First. We're goal-setters and strategic thinkers, by golly.

So if we know what we're supposed to do, why don't we do it? I find for me, fear is generally at the root of it. I'm not engaging in the important activities that will advance my goals out of fear of failure or fear of success and using "too busy with other things" as an excuse for not doing the important work.

To me this means that clarity in itself is not enough. Clarity must be accompanied by disciplined execution. And part of that discipline is developing an awareness of when "busyness as a form of laziness" is cropping up. Am I choosing busy work? Am I avoiding taking the actions that will advance my personal or business goals out of fear? What is it exactly that I'm afraid of?

Fulfilling a long-term vision means not only establishing with clarity what's important, but identifying and addressing what fears and activities masking those fears may be preventing you from acting on your vision.


  1. I have to agree on your fear point. One of our teachers gave us a practice to do something we avoid doing and watch our minds. I chose matching socks because at the time I hated it because there were SO many socks that did not match! So, I matched socks and watched my mind. I would have thought that my concern was wasted time or even frustration that no one was helping. What I found, after watching and working though a few layers of thoughts, that it triggered for me a sense of being out of control, that I could not get done what I needed, or not get the help I needed. So though sock matching is not a critical task, there were very strong emotions underlying the aversion. This is one way the skills we develop as Buddhists can help us change our lives and attain freedom.

  2. Great article! Thank you for sharing ~

    I especially liked this part: "To me this means that clarity in itself is not enough. Clarity must be accompanied by disciplined execution. And part of that discipline is developing an awareness of when "busyness as a form of laziness" is cropping up. Am I choosing busy work? etc.


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