We are obsessed with being busy.
Think about how you answer the question “How are you?”, particularly at work, these days…
“Rushed off my feet!”
“Back to back!”
“Swimming not drowing!”
and other such epithets.
We use busy-ness as a sign of importance, of status. Of Godliness. The Protestant Work Ethic has a lot to answer for.
The technology we use in work, though, is now reinforcing this obsession with busy-ness at pace. Take, for example, the options that Google Inbox gave me send an automatic message to someone I was meeting:
this was four hours before the meeting, and all I wanted to do was confirm that the meeting was still happening. Every one of the suggestions came from the perspective that I was too busy.
Collaboration platforms in particular emphasise making efficient use of time almost above all else. Yet has this technology made us any more effective? Through my research I’ve yet to see any compelling evidence. And every innovation created to free up a few spare minutes is met with an equal and opposite force to use that time up. Online diaries and the decline of the Personal Assistant have combined to reduce what was crucial friction to enable people to have a balance between scheduled and impromptu time.
Whilst everyone is stuck in unproductive meetings that they bemoan constantly, they’re far more afraid of wide open expanses of diary time. What on earth would they use it for? And how would they possibly justify their corporate existence without an expanse of busy in their diaries? Even that binary distinction, Busy or Free, is a false dichotomy symbolic of the busy-ness culture.
The reality is like building additional roads on motorways. Any additional time freed up is met immediately with new demands for busy-ness.
But here’s the thing. I do some of my best work when I’m doing nothing. Those moments when my brain can roam free and make the connections to answer the problems on which I’m working. And it’s not just me.
What would technology that supported a non-busy approach to working look like? I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve a feeling that it might be the World Wide Web. Not the process-y SaaS end of the Internet, but the explorative, creative, curious Internet that’s still very much there if you take the time to look for it. The Web that explores and builds on ideas. That works out loud. That plays with ideas, not streamlines time management.