Too busy? What benefit does busy-ness bring?

There’s a nice article in last Friday’s New York Times titled Too Busy to Notice You’re Too Busy.  While I admit to a frisson of annoyance at the author’s introduction (she’s married, two children, working part-time, a volunteer, a regular exerciser, and a socializer who employs a housecleaner twice a month), it does seem to me that many people — lawyers especially — really enjoy being busy.

Busy is worn as a badge of honor, and (gender notwithstanding) being busy is often a macho statement of one’s value.  After all, if a lawyer is talented and dedicated, why would she ever not be busy?  And who wants to find out?

I wonder sometimes what’s lost of be-ing when one is so very busy do-ing.  What’s being ignored or unnoticed?  And at the end of the day, or the end of the life, is the “busy” worth it?

I’ve worked with a client to cut back on some of the busy.  Names and details are omitted to protect confidentiality, of course, but my client realized that even when he was at home with his wife, he wasn’t truly present.  He was checking email, making lists, fielding calls, and reading up.  His body was home, but he wasn’t.  Although he was busy and successful, he wasn’t enjoying his life because he felt unconnected, and he felt more and more drained by his work.  After some examination, he decided to set boundaries around his time.  He elected to block out time to be present with his family, to sleep and exercise enough to renew his energy, and to enforce the boundaries he’s set.  The result?  He is more focused at work, he accomplishes more, and he gets to enjoy some time to be.  He is reengaged.  He’s still busy, but his busy is the result of conscious and purposeful choice.

How about you?  Is there some aspect of your life or your practice that’s busy because busy looks good?  Would you prefer something different?  Or do you feel trapped, unhappy with the schedule you have but unable to see any way to change it?  Though it may not be easy to see, choice is always present.  Spend some time in possibility and ask, if you could make one change in your time, what would it be?

2 replies
  1. Shiv N
    Shiv N says:

    Prior to going to law school, I worked for a major telecom manufacturer. Initially I worked for them in Canada, and later I got transferred to the USA. I have observed that Americans are workaholics and proud of it. I had two bosses, here in the USA, who used to brag about early they arrived and how late they left every day. My feeling was that if they could not do their job in an 8 hour day, they were inefficient. Indeed, I observed them engage in many time wasting and frivolous activities during the day. Many colleagues would arrive early and then spend an hour eating breakfast in the cafeteria. On the other hand, I always ate breakfast at home and came to work ready to work. Canadians work hard too. But they know how to set limits. Why is it that most Americans have only 2 weeks vacation while other countries give more?

  2. Julie Fleming Brown
    Julie Fleming Brown says:

    Thanks for your comment, Shiv. You ask some good questions. One-upsmanship (again, intended to be gender-neutral) on time spent at work seems to be a hallmark of American offices, and I think it’s particularly common in law since many lawyers do measure their “success” in terms of the number of hours billed, just as many clients measure satisfaction in part on lawyer response time. And the habit is often reinforced with praise from colleagues, which makes it a difficult habit to break despite the very real costs. It’s a tricky situation that pulls at lawyers from many different directions.

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