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ONJ_busywork_orig20120816-17262-ixeh8sI’ve become very annoyed of late with some business colleagues.  A simple “Hello.  How’re things?” often will elicit one of the following responses:

“My hair’s on fire.”
“I’m up to my ass in alligators.”
“I’m barely treading water.”
“I’m slammed, man.”
“I’m crashing on a deadline.”
“Beyond busy.”

Such responses make me feel uneasy. Like I should say, defensively, “Well, gosh, I’m really busy, too.” It sometimes feels like a roundelay of one-upmanship. I hate it. Particularly since I’m a businessman and writer who often needs to be systematically still to function effectively. (Laziness and Entrepreneurship—September 3, 2013)

3184677824Essayist Tim Kreider wrote a wonderful OpEd for the NYTimes a couple of years ago titled “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” Here’s some of what he said.

“If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing….Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work….Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if your are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” (NY Times, 6/30/12)

It’s like being busy these days is cool. It gives us business status. Note the word “busy” is inculcated in the word “business.”

Well, I don’t think being busy is cool. I think expressed busyness is frequently more an evincement of fear—the fear that we may be frenetic failures, that we may not really matter that much. It’s like a dramatization of our self-importance more than of our reality. It is a form of entrepreneurial “Big Dickism.” (That is, mine is bigger than yours.) A sort of macho entrepreneurial badge of honor. Tim Kreider argues that this braggadocio of the busy can in fact lead us toward a sort of “histrionic exhaustion” of anxious defensiveness.

Rollo-MayMaybe we should actually be bragging about our conscious idleness, our regularized moments of revery, our disciplined pausing to refresh.

Psychiatrist Rollo May puts it this way:

“The pause is especially important for the freedom of being. What I have called essential freedom. For it is in the pause we experience the context out of which freedom comes…. When we don’t pause, when we are perpetually hurrying from one appointment to another, from one ‘planned activity’ to another, we sacrifice the richness of wonder.  And we lose communication with our destiny.”

Thanks, Rollo

34 Responses to “The Brag of Busyness and the Entrepreneur”
  1. Richard Hunter (for the benefit of the NSA & IRS) says:

    When entrepreneurs, or business folks, complain of being too busy with too many things to do, I’m reminded of the old Southern saying: When you are up to your ass in alligators remember that the initial objective WAS to drain the swamp. And I would add that if you got that many alligators why ain’t you making handbags, belts, and boots.

  2. Steve Sacco says:

    Thanks Tim, it’s true most of the people I know are to busy and it seems we wouldn’t have it another way. What I hear the Buddist monks say as well as Rollo May is true we usually don’t live in the moment when we are busy.

  3. Michael Drapkin says:

    Nice piece, and I wasn’t too busy to read it.

  4. Jeffrey Wyant says:

    Thanks, Tim.

    In regard to stopping the busyness, to pause and to perhaps reflect, this brings to mind the following:

    The Delphic Oracle’s dictum: “Know thyself.” Aristotle amplified this as “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” If we’re constantly busy doing, we don’t have the time to reflect on who were are, what we’re really about, and what we really should be doing.

    Perhaps one one of the most important cornerstones of philosophy is Socrates’ quote in Plato’s Apology:
    “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.” Do we want this inscribed on our tombstone: “He was busy all his life”?

    I think that the constant checking of one’s phone for email, voicemail, and texts is another way that people stay busy, since it’s a distraction from what might be truly important and fills up “idle time” that could have been used for reflection.

    No one knows what consciousness is, but one definition is that it isa process fills a gap in time for processing sensory information before action is taken. So, instead of our limbic system governing us with almost-instant reactions, we reflect and consider before we take action, which is a large part of what makes us humans.

    Thanks for sharing, I just officially signed up to your newsletter/blog.

    All the best,

    Jeffrey Wyant

  5. Patric Hale says:

    So how IS it going?

    The best answer I ever heard – and now use most of the time – is: “I’m doing the best that I can.”


  6. says:

    Good Tim

    Harvey Markovitz
    Clinical Associate Professor
    Lubin School of Business
    Pace University

  7. Ira Friedman says:

    I enjoyed your recent blog and marvel at your language skills.

  8. Shlomo says:

    Agreed…good point.

    I am no longer busy, from here-in I am amazing!

  9. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Hey, Richard. Good to see a comment from you again. I assume you’ve been busy.


  10. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Dear Steve,

    So very true.

    Warm regards,


  11. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Dear Michael,

    Ha ha.


  12. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Hey, Jeffrey. I am honored by your elegant and erudite comment and am gratified that you have officially signed up for the Corporate Rain community. Thank you.


  13. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Good answer, Patric.


  14. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Thanks for reading, Harvey.


  15. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Dear Ira,

    Aw shucks.


  16. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    You are amazing indeed, Schlomo. Thanks for reading.


  17. jeteye says:

    You know, this is right…many times during the day… I feel like I can just relax…and I am doing 3 startups simultaneously… actually there is a quote that I like…

    “Creative people are at their most productive when they appear to be doing nothing.”
    –Tim Askew

    I think I know that guy… anyway, I find the harder I work.. the more FREE time I make… of course, every now and then everything hits at once and I am busy..but that is the exception more than the rule… being an entrepreneur is more about freedom than enslavement… and I choose freedom…

    Well put Tim…

  18. We’ve created this idea that busy = success, so naturally everyone wants to say how busy they are. It’s just another way we protect our fragile egos. What’s exciting is when (if) we get to the place in life when we care far less about what others think of us. Then we don’t have to talk about busy but instead about meaning.

  19. David Rosten says:

    Dear Tim, Tremendous blog. Thanks. The best book I’ve read on the busyness trap is “Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy lLives” by Wayne Muller. It talks about how people so pridefully say all the time how “busy” they are…when what really point to states of health and creativity and productivity is the precise opposite of being “busy”, especially those in environments like Manhattan.

  20. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Hey, jeteye. You’re getting to be a regular at Making Rain. And I very much agree that freedom is the key to entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is a unique vehicle for creating individual meaning where society is losing its center. Keep reading, Jeteye. I appreciate your comment.


  21. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Bingo, Karen. I am always so pleased to dialogue with you about my essays. Thank you for commenting.


  22. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Dear David,

    Thank you very much for the introduction to Wayne Muller. I did not know about him, but after reading your comment I looked him up and he is lovely. Very much my cup of tea.

    Warm regards,


  23. Tom Martin says:

    Hi, Tim!

    Your blog post comes into my life (as so often happens) at just the right time.

    I spent the day on Friday, April 25 at a live event hosted by Arianna Huffington, in connection with her new book “Thrive.” A couple of years ago, I noticed (while watching a live video feed from Donna Karen’s mindfulness center, featuring Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington and a few others) that she was speaking out emphatically about the importance of getting enough sleep. At the time, it seemed like a rather trivial topic to turn into “a major cause.” As I’ve been reading her book, however, it makes perfect sense. (She says that Bill Clinton once said that “every major mistake” he’d ever made was made at a time when he had not had enough sleep. She said “he didn’t specifically say which mistakes he was referring to…”)

    Arianna said she was inspired to write the book because one night in 2007 (after working countless 18-hour days, seven days a week) she collapsed in her office, breaking her cheekbone and winding up in a pool of blood. She said that by the commonly accepted measures of success (power and money) she was indeed a success. But, as she says, “by any ‘sane’ definition of success, I was not a success” … lying facedown in her office in a pool of blood. She was worried there was some serious health problem behind her collapse, but it was “just” exhaustion. She said it’s time for “a third metric” for measuring “success” — well-being and quality of life, including giving and also joy.

    Her book – and the live event I attended — also stressed the importance of meditation, and Arianna said that a number of people “who might surprise you” have been meditating daily for years — Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Capital (Valerie Jensen, wife of Bridgewater co-CEO Greg Jensen, is a friend of mine), George Stephanopolis (his wife, actress Allie Wentworth was one of Arianna’s interview guests at the live event), Jerry Steinfield, and many more. A friend of mine has been teaching Transcendental Meditation for years now, and studied with “the Maharishi” (who also taught the Beatles, and one of my childhood heroes, magician Doug Henning, how to meditate) — and he’s an international business broker. (I was one of the few men at Arianna’s live event, and she said that — as can be extrapolated from what you say in your blog post — men tend to boast about their sleep deprivation and wear it like a badge of honor, as it this is something to aspire to — and that success is
    not really possible without “burning the candle at both ends.”

    Anyway… I just thought I’d share.

  24. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Hey, Tom. Good to hear from you. You tell the most wonderful stories and and seem to know everyone in the world. I am always grateful when you take the time to share and respond to my essays. Thank you.


  25. I appreciated your blog post. I see “business” as one pole of a continuum between “busy” and “still” or you could name the polariity Doing-Being. It’s unnatural to stay at one pole or the other of this continuum. It is healthy to move between these two ways of being like breathing – you need both the inhale and the exhale to breathe successfullly. I spoke about this polarity and how to balance the two with business and spiritual practices in an interview that willl be aired on VoiceAmerica radio on Monday, 12 May at 11am PT – it’s a show called “Minding Our Business.”

  26. Jeff Marks says:

    Good piece as usual. It makes me think maybe I’m doing something right by sneaking out to hit some golf balls in the middle of the afternoon or laying down on the sofa and shutting my eyes for a half hour. I’m not slacking off but simply “exercising my disciplined pause to reflect.”

  27. You can add Australia to your observations as well. Even the farmers are busy, or at least that is what my brother-in-law keeps telling me.

  28. Fiona Brooks says:

    Thanks Tim, I couldn’t agree more. I believe it’s only in the quiet moments that our deeper wisdom can be heard, a type of thinking that goes beyond the cognitive busyness of the everyday. I love David Whyte’s views in “Crossing the Unknown Sea – Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity”:
    “Speed in work has compensations. Speed gets noticed. Speed is praised by others. Speed is self-important. Speed absolves us. Speed means we don’t really belong to any particular thing or person we are visiting and thus appears to elevate us above the ground of our labours. When it becomes all-consuming, speed is the ultimate defence, the antidote to stopping and really looking. If we really saw what we were doing and who we had become, we feel we might not survive the stopping and the accompanying self-appraisal. So we don’t stop, and the faster we go, the harder it becomes to stop. We keep moving on whenever any form of true commitment seems to surface. Speed is also warning, a throbbing, insistent indicator that some cliff edge or other is very near, a sure diagnostic sign that we are living someone else’s life and doing someone else’s work. But speed saves us the pain of all that stopping; speed can be such a balm, a saving grace, a way we tell ourselves, in unconscious says, that we are really not participating.”
    “Without silence work is not music, but a mechanical hum, like an old refrigerator, the white background noise corroding our attempts at a real conversation and only noticed in the reverberating kitchen, when it finally brings itself to a stop.”

    Roll on the slow and quiet moments, where we can reach deep to explore our true selves and purpose, and find those elegant solutions that are waiting under the surface.
    By Fiona Brooks

  29. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Thank you, Fiona. Wonderful quote from David Whyte.


  30. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Hey, David. Good to hear from Down Under.


  31. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Hey, Jeff. Agreed.


  32. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Dear Dorianne,

    I like your idea of the “busy” and “still” continuum. The Voice of America interview sounds very interesting. Thanks for contributing to Making Rain.


  33. Jeanie Crowder says:

    I never thought of “busy” as bragging, rather an expression on one’s state of mind…and a reflection
    on today’s world where we squeeze every last drop out of humans in the pursuit of increased profits.
    Give me un-busy any day!!

  34. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Amen, Sister Jeanie.


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