The Busy Life

Everybody is very busy these days, regardless of what we do or don’t do. Makes me wonder why we are so busy? And of course – are we really that busy?
I got some real good answers from a recent article in NYTimes [Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain] about a bunch of professors on a week-long trip in Utah to study the effect of “unplugging” from modern modes of communication (emails, blackberries, TVs…). A few of them explain how busy their lives were.
I was surprised and found it hard to understand why someone engaged in researching such a casual topic should be so strapped for time. A few fireside chats would give enough material to talk & write about. These topics are not particularly time sensitive or critical.
For my benefit, one of them goes on to describe why he is so busy & talks about things that keep him awake & working through midnight – these activities to my surprise were not what I expected a researcher or a professor to do primarily. Most of them were about securing his position & influence, making sure things get done, making sure that funds come in – they were all “non-core”. It was epiphanic to see how these non-core, support activities – especially, those that are borne out of various forms of insecurities have come to suck time out of our days.
This article made me take a close look at how I spend my time & how people around me spend theirs. It was eye opening to see that in an era when the concept of “core competency” was solidified, studied & evangelized in the business world, we all spend a lot of time on “non-core” activities. Particularly, the time sucking ones are those that stem from insecurities, from the need to protect ourselves from blame when things go wrong.
Some examples from my days are working on immigration papers over & over again just so that I can continue to work & live where I am. Responding to every query that comes my way even though I may not be the best person to handle all of them lest I appear un-cooperative.
The second takeaway from the article was that the blurring lines between work & “non-work” make people overestimate the amount of work they do. As I read through I felt as if they were classifying pretty much everything as work. The 5-day Utah trip, the conversations on “unplugged” life etc all these have a very high pleasure component in them. In several instances, it is hard to segregate work & leisure – both get embedded into the same activity. To that extent it is meaningless to count the hours we “work”.


  1. Seetha, I recommend that you read Daniel Pink's book, "Drive". It's about what motivates us. In three words we are motivated by "Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose". If we have these things at work we will be motivated and therefore enjoy what we are doing. Work and pleasure are not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately we don't always have autonomy at work which detracts from the pleasure and actually makes work "work".

  2. Aunt Janet, Thanks for the suggestion - will pick up that book. I am glad I have ample opportunity in terms of mastery & autonomy. Purpose - still not sure about that!