Professionals fight to escape the ‘busy’ trap

An essay criticizing the busy, ambitious lives of city professionals has gone viral in the USA. It argues we should give up being busy – and spend time in blissful idleness instead.

Ask a few people how they are today, and it is likely that some will respond with the same word: busy. For this growing crowd, life is a mad dash between crucially important tasks. Whether at work or home, there are not enough hours in the day for each of their pressing commitments.

That, at least, is what one writer thinks. In last weekend’s New York Times, Tim Kreider argued that successful, city-dwelling people are caught in a ‘busy trap’. Stuck in a merry-go-round of to-do lists, they are left with no time for leisure or reflection.

What’s more, he argues, being constantly on-the-go is completely unnecessary. People cram their lives with tasks because they are worried about achieving success. They constantly check their smartphones for new emails to be reassured that they are important. Busyness is a ‘hedge against emptiness,’ Kreider writes. ‘Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy.’

His observations struck a chord. The article quickly went viral, and within days, columnists everywhere were busily opinionating on the epidemic of busyness.

It has been a nagging worry for a long time. Today’s economy is based on hard work: with millions of people fighting for high-status jobs, success depends on being the most productive person in the pile. And thanks to smartphones, laptops and 3G internet, many of us are expected to be connected to work 24/7.

It wasn’t always going to be like this. In the 1930s, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that citizens of the future would work 15-hour weeks. The rest of the hours would be reserved for leisure: spending time with family and friends, on books or hobbies, or just contemplating the world.

Kreider thinks this is the good life – and that it could be within everyone’s reach. He recommends prioritising leisure over success and status; spending time on pleasant, if ‘pointless’, activities instead of ‘constructive’ self-improvement.

How to be idle

But not everyone agrees. They say busy people make the most of their time. To achieve all that we are capable of, it is necessary to squeeze as much as possible out of every hour. That is why the busiest, most driven people are usually the most fulfilled.

If someone’s life is an endless cycle of stress and busyness, however, does it matter how successful they are? Many argue these ambitious characters chase the wrong goals. They should not be striving for achievement, but finding contentment in the things they have already.

You Decide

  1. Would you prefer to be stressed and successful, or a happy failure?
  2. Is idleness a bad thing?


  1. Draw up a timetable for the ultimate day of self-improvement and productive activity. What would happen if you actually tried to live according to this timetable?
  2. Write either a ‘manifesto for idleness’ or a ‘manifesto for busyness’.

Some People Say...

“The Devil makes work for idle hands.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How do I go about living this 15-hour-a-week life of leisure?
Unfortunately, it’s not really an option. For most people, busyness is a fact of life. Paying the rent, putting food on the table and buying an occasional change of clothes requires money – and a job. That means a decent portion of your waking hours will probably have to be spent at school and work.
What’s the point in even thinking about it, then?
Interestingly, some think tanks are campaigning for a shift to more leisure time. If the working week averaged twenty hours, they argue, unemployment would virtually disappear – because the existing work would be split more evenly.
That’s not likely for a while though, right?
Right. But it’s possible to strike a balance between things like school work and other areas of life, like friends and hobbies.

Word Watch

Something that is trivial is of very little importance. The word is usually used in a negative way, to describe something insignificant in comparison to pressing, serious matters.
Maynard Keynes
John Maynard Keynes was a British Economist who lived in the first half of the 20th Century. He is much discussed today because of his belief that governments should borrow and spend more money during recessions – the opposite of what most countries are doing today.


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